TAMPA — The wishes of urbanites living downtown have finally come true.
They have a grocery store — albeit, one the size of a small storage unit.
"It's the best thing we've got," said Brandon Kanter, 27, who lives in the SkyPoint high-rise on Ashley Drive.
Mayor Bob Buckhorn is scheduled to cut the ribbon today at the grand opening of the Duckweed Urban Market, signifying the role this shoebox could play in downtown's long evolution into a thriving home for young professionals.
First came hip places like Fly Bar on N Franklin Street. Then came high-rises like SkyPoint and Element, mid-rise neighborhoods in the Channel District, a Riverwalk, two sleek new museums and a dramatically overhauled Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park. There are now more than 70 restaurants downtown brave enough to stay open for dinner.
A tide of residents came with the sea change. After years of high vacancies, the Tampa Downtown Partnership reported this spring that 85 percent of downtown's 4,325 homes are occupied.
The survey also reported what 93 percent of those urban dwellers felt was missing most: a grocery store.
Michelle Deatherage agreed. She's lived with her husband, Brent, downtown for 31/2 years.
"I hated waking up Sunday morning and saying 'let's cook bacon,' " she said, "and there was nowhere to get bacon."
They would drive about a mile to Publix on Bayshore Boulevard or Wal-Mart just south of the University of Tampa. For a toothbrush or candy bar, they could walk to a convenience store on E Madison Avenue.
"CVS is the closest to get your milk," Deatherage said. "They're actually not bad, all things considered, but wouldn't it be great to have a place dedicated to groceries plus beer and wine?"
So the Deatherages opened one. They leased 400 square feet at 305 E Polk St. that once housed a pen shop, painted the floor red and began stocking gourmet, local and organic produce, meats and cheeses, as well as common merchandise like Pringles chips and Snickers bars.
Michelle Deatherage, 39, a Lowe's Home Improvement director, and Brent Deatherage, 43, a physician associate, named the store Duckweed after a tiny flowering plant that grows in Florida and feeds livestock in some countries.
They set out a bright red awning, a flower box full of herbs and a friendly sidewalk sandwich board. They slapped rubber duckie outlines on the walls and stocked tight shelves with Oregon Chai, Cafe DuMonde chickory, white and black truffle oil, Romanoff caviar, Sriracha hot sauce, Blackstrap molasses, fine herb goat cheese, Bar S turkey bacon and locally baked Baker Pilgrim pumpkin muffins still warm upon delivery.
With the possibility of a grocery store opening some day blocks away in the 40-acre Encore housing project, Michelle Deatherage wanted to concentrate on specialty products to stand out and lure sophisticated urbanites.
The store has been quietly open for two months, and some people have noticed. Customers next door at the Hub, a dive bar institution downtown for more than 60 years, have bought cans of salsa to split with chips at the bar, daytime manager Jeanne Robinson said.
Robinson has worked at the Hub for 24 years and remembers downtown's last grocery store, a U-Save, that closed decades ago.
"Everybody wants one," she said.
Duckweed in no way alleviates downtown's desire for a full-service grocery store, residents said. But it does give their big, urban appetites a small snack while they wait.
"It's awesome they're actually thinking about the residents more," said Can Us, 28, who has lived in SkyPoint for the past three years and recently walked over to the Duckweed for a cucumber soda.
Justin George can be reached at (813) 226-3368 or [email protected]