ST. PETERSBURG — While some Walmart employees are protesting for better wages in cities from Orlando to San Francisco, confirmation of the store's opening in Midtown has plenty of residents ready to welcome the giant retailer.
"I'm going to try to get a job with them. It's great. I can walk right here," said 21-year-old Tonecia Williams as she walked past the vacant Sweetbay grocery where it will open.
A recent legal filing shows Walmart plans to name the space at 1794 22nd St. S "Walmart store #6400." The company also has leased a nearby gym at 1201 22nd St. to use for interviewing and hiring prospective employees. The lease with the building's owner, the St. Petersburg Housing Authority, runs through the end of the year.
Surveyors were measuring the vacant Sweetbay and a row of smaller retail spaces last week. It appears the whole shopping center will be involved in some sort of refurbishing.
"I am under a confidentiality agreement and can't say anything," said David Williams, vice president of GeoPoint Surveying. Such a stipulation is asked for in about one out of every 100 clients, he said.
Representatives from Walmart could not be reached for comment. Larry Newsome, of Urban Development Solutions, the company that manages the Tangerine Plaza shopping center, declined to comment.
Midtown residents aren't waiting for the official word to anticipate what a difference Walmart will make after losing their only neighborhood grocery store in February.
"I am very, very excited. Wally-world is coming," said 24-year-old Antoinette Smith, pumping her right hand over her head in a cheering motion. "People can work there. And Walmart has free bags."
She's been going to Save-A-Lot stores, which charge 3 cents for a small plastic bag and 10 cents for a large one.
"A Walmart here will be great for the community," said Andrea Pressley, 34, who takes two buses with her 6-month-old daughter and stroller in tow to get to the Publix on Third Avenue S.
"Are they hiring?," asked 23-year-old Adam Hall, who lives on Queensboro Avenue, which backs up to the shopping center. "I could use a job as soon as they start."
"People in this neighborhood don't have cars. After they took the Sweetbay away it's been hard," said Leteruis Bentley, 23, who's also eager to apply for work.
Lynette Watkins, 56, said having close access not just to groceries, but also a pharmacy is important to the community.
"Walmart coming is a good deal," she said.
Vassie Walker has lived on Queensboro Avenue half of her 84 years. When the Tangerine Plaza shopping center was under construction the work brought months of litter and tire tracks to her neatly kept yard. She silently protested the new Sweetbay by refusing to shop there for the first year.
"When I finally did go it was very convenient. And now, I miss them. I really do," she said. "I'll be glad to have Walmart. I hope they will be a good neighbor."
Katherine Snow Smith can be reached at (727) 893-8785 or [email protected]