St. Petersburg folks crave these stores

ST. PETERSBURG

With the prospect of 2-million square feet of new retail space in Pinellas County, a shopper's imagination runs wild.

While developers have dropped names like Crate & Barrel, Tommy Bahama, Whole Foods, Williams-Sonoma, Cabela's and Bass Pro Shops as potential developments on the Tropicana Field site or at the Toytown landfill, the eventual reality might be different.

Still, Neighborhood Times asked what you would like to see and then contacted those businesses to see if this community fills the bill for them. Here is your list of favorites and the businesses' response.

Trader Joe's

The most popular choice among readers is also the shortest answer from a business.

"At this time, the St. Petersburg area is not in our two-year plan for opening a store," said Alison Mochizuki, the company's director of public relations. Company policy dictates that she could offer nothing further than this curt statement. Trader Joe's has no quirky gourmet-grocery stores in Florida.

Whole Foods

The natural/organic grocery chain was a bit more talkative.

"We get a lot of inquiries about sites," said Briana Madrid, the regional associate marketing coordinator for Florida.

Madrid said she worked in the Plantation store and that shoppers there would ask for stores closer to home. She said they routinely got 10 requests each week. Some were from people trying to be helpful.

"People would see a grocery store that would close and would think that would be a great place for a Whole Foods," she said. "But these buildings do have to meet our standards."

Whole Foods needs a space of at least 45,000 square feet, Madrid said. The largest store is 60,000 square feet, in Boca Raton. She said the company looks at factors like population density, education, income, expressed interest in the product lines and cost of real estate, but those factors fit into an algorithm, not a checklist.

But with Whole Foods' acquisition last year of Wild Oats, the company gained a Tampa Bay presence through the Wild Oats store on Gandy Boulevard.

Madrid said the company is encouraged to hear that St. Petersburg shoppers are interested, but having the Tampa store means it's already reaching the area. Still, the business is always exploring new locations to meet demand.

Whole Foods had 190 stores and added 90 Wild Oats stores, which are being rebranded as Whole Foods, Madrid said. There are 14 stores in Florida, including Tampa and Sarasota.

Crate & Barrel

Crate & Barrel likes to settle near Whole Foods, as well as the Container Store and Nordstrom's, none of which are in the area, said the company's director of public relations, Bette Kahn.

"We love to have sophisticated, well-traveled, educated people that know us," Kahn said. "Income levels aren't that important to us because we have something at every price point."

Kahn cited a common set of criteria for a location: on a main road, in a regional shopping center, among a variety of stores. She said there are no immediate plans for a St. Petersburg presence, in part because the company has an expansion plan of only six to 10 new stores a year.

"All our management comes from within our existing stores," she said. "It takes a long time to grow a manager."

Crate & Barrel has 160 stores throughout the country, Kahn said, but only four in Florida: Boca Raton, Aventura, Miami and Orlando. A store in Palm Beach Gardens just closed, but there is an outlet store at Sawgrass Mills in Broward County.

While the Tampa Bay area is a major metro region, Kahn couldn't say what the company's interest level is over other areas that also want a store.

"Many people would like us to come," she said, "but we can't be everywhere."

Wegman's

Most of the other stores on the list are widespread enough that almost anyone has been in one, but Wegman's is the most regional, but with a fervent following.

"It's cultish almost," said Paul Gilbert, Wegman's director of real estate. "We get petitions."

Those yearning for the enormous specialty grocer are likely to be disappointed, though, because the chain has a conservative growth strategy, Gilbert said. Though he gets thousands of location requests a year, the company plans only two or three new stores each year, and those are likely to be adjacent to its Northeast/Mid-Atlantic presence.

Wegman's has 70 stores, mostly in New York (48) but also in Pennsylvania (12), New Jersey (seven), Virginia (two) and Maryland (one).

"We're creeping south, but the question is, do we continue south or do we go northeast?" Gilbert said. Wegman's is not in New England and not even east of Syracuse, so the company has convenient options close to home.

Gilbert said the slow expansion reflects a desire to maintain operational standards and distribution efficiencies. With an average store size of 140,000 to 160,000 square feet, there's a lot of space to maintain, particularly considering that most of the operation is in perishables: deli, bakery, meat, seafood, produce and prepared foods that ring the perimeter of the stores.

The chain plans to keep its focus, Gilbert said. "We're a small regional chain."

Ikea

The iconic Swedish furniture retailer is deep in its plan to open a store near Tampa's port district next summer and is satisfied with that as a presence for the region, said spokesman Joseph Roth.

"We look for a very central location supported by a population of about 2-million people per store," he said. "We think that's what we've found."

Other retailers have chosen Tampa because it's closer to the center of a population circle, but Roth adds that finding the right property is also a factor. With Pinellas County already mostly built out, it's a tougher sell for the large land area Ikea usually requires.

"It's one thing to look for a site," Roth said. "It's another thing to find 30 or 40 acres."

Last year, Ikea opened a store in Sunrise, its first in the state, and a few months later, one in Orlando. Roth said current plans are that Tampa will be Florida's last.

Ikea has 277 stores worldwide, with only 34 in the United States. By the time the Tampa store opens next year, it will be the 37th American outlet.

Macy's and Bloomingdale's

These two stores were nearly matched in the list of reader requests. Macy's is in St. Petersburg, Clearwater and Tampa, but there is no Bloomingdale's any closer than Orlando. Despite the interest, the company declined to discuss its location decisions.

Cabela's

This outdoor retailer has no stores in Florida at all. With a 47-year history, mostly as a catalog business, the outfitter has a lot of data about where its customers are and where stores are needed, and it lets those numbers be the guide, said retail spokesman John Castillo.

"We look at what our existing customer base is in the area," Castillo said, "but we also look at the culture of outdoor participation, like hunting, fishing, camping and boating."

Immediate adjacent population isn't as important as outdoor-driven traffic, Castillo said. And the data dictate store size and configuration. All the factors create what looks like an odd puzzle.

For instance, there are stores outside a major population center like Chicago, but also a store in Post Falls, Idaho, which is merely on the way to and from lots of outdoor activities. The largest store is a 250,000-square-foot behemoth in Hamburg, Pa., well north of Philadelphia, and the smallest a 35,000-square-foot outlet in Kearney, Neb., the chain's first brick-and-mortar store.

Castillo said he has heard plenty of interest from Florida, but the company is still evaluating a presence. There are only 26 stores in the country, and even those are recent: As of 1997, the company had only two stores, both in its home state of Nebraska.

Nordstrom

The Seattle-based clothing retailer renowned for its customer service already has a Tampa store among its eight in the state, but is still open to exploring other locations, said spokesman Michael Boyd.

"We're happy to look," he said, "especially when customers want us to be there."

Lots of people want Nordstrom, though, and Boyd said he entertains queries from all over the United States. He said there isn't a hard-and-fast formula for choosing a location, but more of a feeling of fit.

"Our goal is to be in the best malls in the top retail markets," he said.

Those locations may not be at the center of a dense population, he said, as long as they have enough variety that they can pull people from a wide enough area. He said there isn't a specific demographic profile it looks for in customers, just people interested in Nordstrom.

"We look for the customer that loves fashion, that appreciates quality and design, and that wants a good shopping experience with good service," he said.

There are 105 Nordstroms in the United States, as well as 50 Nordstrom Rack stores. The company started in 1901 as a shoe store and didn't sell clothes until the 1960s.

Kohl's

This Wisconsin-based department store opened its first south Pinellas spot last year to go along with stores in Clearwater, Brandon, New Port Richey and North Tampa. The newest Pinellas store is on Park Street, far to the west of Toytown or the Trop, but Kohl's is focusing its new-store energy elsewhere in Florida for the rest of 2008. The chain is opening eight stores in the state, but none in the Tampa Bay area. As for any interest in St. Petersburg, the company had an official statement:

"Kohl's looks for communities with high concentrations of families with children. When it makes sense we build stores in new communities near communities we already serve. Kohl's picks convenient locations that are close to where our customers live and work."

Williams-Sonoma and Pottery Barn

These two retailers are under the same ownership, which did not provide comment for this story.

Dave & Buster's

This grown-up playground now has 50 locations in 22 states, but only three in Florida: Jacksonville, Hollywood and Miami. While its representatives did not say how closely they are looking at St. Petersburg, they did provide a laundry list of criteria.

• 1-million square feet of retail within a quarter-mile

• Daytime population of 100,000 within 3 miles

• Overall population of 500,000 within 10 miles

• Customers ages 21-54 within a 25-minute drive time

• Median customer income of $66,000

• Customers with college experience and most with white-collar jobs

• Building size of about 35,000 square feet that can accommodate a 125-seat dining room, 50-seat bar, 50-seat arcade area and special event seating of 200

• 400 parking spaces at peak periods (can be shared)

It remains to be seen whether the Tropicana Field site or Toytown could fill that bill, even after they are built out, but Dave & Buster's real estate coordinator/development supervisor Elaine Munch writes that the company is excited to hear of the community's interest.

"Thank you and the City of St. Petersburg for their interest in Dave & Buster's!" she wrote. "It is always nice to know how customers feel about us."

Fresh Market

The strongest prospect for a new retail outlet with or without new development is this gourmet grocer, which has interest in the city, if it can find a place.

"We'd love to find the right spot because St. Pete is a target market for us," said Stephen Smith, real estate manager for Fresh Market in Florida. "But commercial development is a challenge."

Smith said the chain has been shopping for space but hasn't found the right parcel or building in a city that is well built out. He said the company looks for about 21,000 square feet of floor space with a 100,000 population in a 5-mile radius. Though it's not exclusive, the store does cater to people with a bit more money and middle-aged or better, he said.

"We're a specialty grocer," he said, "so it's somewhat of a niche placement. Our customer does tend to be a little upscale."

Fresh Market already has two stores in Tampa and one in Clearwater, but Smith said that some of those customers are from St. Petersburg, so he'd like to locate here soon. The Trop or Toytown projects would probably take too long for him to wait, so he has brokers shopping the area now.

"Some other retailers have pulled back," he said. "Maybe there are some opportunities now."

Paul Swider can be reached at pswider@sptimes.com or 892-2271.

>>FAST FACTS

The St. Petersburg Times conducted a reader survey in 1999 to see what types of stores people wanted in the then-new BayWalk complex:


Top favorites from 1999

Crate & Barrel

Restoration Hardware

Pottery Barn

Old Navy

Starbucks

Banana Republic

Abercrombie & Fitch

Jacobson's

Victoria's Secret

Sweet Tomatoes restaurant

Williams-Sonoma

Ann Taylor

Talbots

Eddie Bauer

The Cheesecake Factory


Top favorites from this year

The results from this year's reader's survey include:

Trader Joe's

Whole Foods

Crate & Barrel

Wegman's

Ikea

Macy's

Cabela's

Target

Bloomingdale's

Dillard's

Nordstrom

Kohl's

Williams-Sonoma

Dave & Buster's

Fresh Market

Pottery Barn

St. Petersburg folks crave these stores 04/26/08 [Last modified: Wednesday, April 30, 2008 11:05am]

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