CLEARWATER — Here's one case where people in a North Pinellas neighborhood are actually happy that a Wal-Mart is coming.
There are a couple of reasons for that. For one thing, this won't be the kind of big box store that has sparked intense opposition in places like Tarpon Springs. Instead, it'll be one of Wal-Mart's smaller "Neighborhood Market" grocery stores.
For another thing, it's opening Jan. 7 in what was a vacant building in a long-neglected Clearwater shopping plaza on N Highland Avenue, just south of Sunset Point Road.
"It was really rundown, a terrible eyesore. For about a decade it was a dead Winn-Dixie. The parking lot was used for all kinds of nefarious things," said Bruce Cambique, a board member of Fountain Square Condominiums next door. "They've done a nice job cleaning it up."
This is the first of Wal-Mart's Neighborhood Markets to open in North Pinellas. Another one is planned for next spring or summer in Largo, in the Barclay Square shopping center at Walsingham and Indian Rocks roads, said company spokeswoman Quenta Vettel.
The first one in Pinellas County opened last September on U.S. 19 in Pinellas Park. There's also one in Tampa.
These stores are basically a 24-hour grocery and drugstore in one building. The grocery has a bakery and deli, and the drugstore has a full-service, drive-through pharmacy.
Unlike a Wal-Mart Supercenter, these supermarkets carry no other kinds of merchandise such as tires, computers or clothes. The intent is to draw customers who have neither the time nor the desire to go to the larger supercenters.
Wal-Mart introduced its neighborhood market concept in 1998 in Arkansas and now has more than 130 of them nationwide.
In recent years, Wal-Mart has been steadily opening new supercenters and neighborhood markets throughout Florida, where it's muscling into the grocery business. It's now Florida's second biggest grocery retailer, behind Publix.
It's also competing with Winn-Dixie, Sweetbay and Albertsons, among others. In fact, there's a Sweetbay just north of the Wal-Mart Neighborhood Market that's about to open on N Highland Avenue.
Neighbors along N Highland are fine with having another shopping option. But they're more pleased that the long-dead grocery store in the Highland Square shopping center has a new lease on life.
"There were only a few businesses over there, nothing to attract much clientele," said Cambique, the nearby condo resident. "Now they've done a lot of landscaping. It's going to be nice."
Mike Brassfield can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 445-4160.