Tuesday, April 24, 2018
Business

Is Walmart's exit behind subdued mood at Lighthouse Crossings?

ST. PETERSBURG — Now that the shiny new Walmart has opened on Bay Pines Boulevard across from the C.W. Bill Young VA Medical Center, things are pretty quiet down the road at Lighthouse Crossings.

The Walmart that anchored that shopping center at Tyrone Boulevard and Park Street for 24 years closed July 15. The new Walmart opened 2 miles away on July 16.

"It's slow. Normally we'd be busy this time of day for sure," said Lydvina Eckert, who was working at an empty Subway at 11:55 a.m. one recent day. It's at the opposite end of the shopping center from the vacant Walmart but still hosted plenty of its customers. To make matters worse, none of the Walmart employees are eating there anymore.

"It's slowing down for sure," echoed Dana Gieder, manager of L.A. Tan. "It's still good because we have regulars. It's the new clientele that's slowed down."

Mason Michael, a manager of Mario's Pizza, also said business is slow, but he hopes it's just because of the summer doldrums.

Walmart owns the newly empty 122,000-square-foot store, which isn't listed for lease or sale at the moment.

"We are in the process of evaluating our options for this site," said spokeswoman Amanda Henneberg.

The remaining 70,000 square feet at Lighthouse Crossings is owned by the Sembler Co.

"Of course, losing an anchor makes it more challenging," said Frank Militello, the Sembler agent handling the 24-year-old property. It has four spaces totaling 10,000 square feet for rent. The 26,000-square-foot PetSmart still serves as a draw for shoppers, he said.

"That's always been a good store for PetSmart," Militello added.

The center also hosts a Plato's Closet, Scrubs n' Stuff, Maytag, Dollar Tree and Café Croissant.

"We really can't tell (the impact of losing Walmart) yet because it's summertime," said Nicole Bosc, who owns the Café Croissant with her husband. "Every summer it is very quiet around here until the tourists come."

If Walmart maintains the building for its own use, it could house a Neighborhood Walmart grocery store or a Sam's Club, though the space is way too big for one and slightly small for the other. The average Neighborhood Walmart is 41,000 square feet, while the average Sam's Club is 133,000 square feet.

Empty big-box stores hurting dependent retail neighbors is far from a new phenomenon. Numerous centers in the area are struggling with Sweetbay closures. Another recent casualty is Suncoast Plaza, at 34th Street and 22nd Avenue N. The Staples and Bealls Outlet are bookended by large, empty spaces. Picadilly Cafeteria closed first. Then the Winn-Dixie moved across the street to take over a Sweetbay.

Thrift City owner Tim Chevalier opened his 15,000-square-foot store in the center just a month ago and is trying to be positive.

"Even with (the large vacancies) we've got great visibility right on 34th Street," he said.

Contact Katherine Snow Smith at [email protected] Follow @snowsmith.

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