ST. PETERSBURG — First Tampa. Now St. Petersburg.
After years of scouring the Tampa Bay area for sites, Trader Joe's confirmed Wednesday that it will open a store on Fourth Street N at 28th Avenue N in St. Petersburg.
The specialty grocery chain said it has signed a lease for a new 12,500-square-foot store set to open late next year. The site is now home to the Ringside Cafe, Classy Closet, the 4th Street Boxing Club and other small businesses, which must move by year's end.
The announcement comes less than three months after Trader Joe's said it will open the region's first store at 3808 W Swann Ave. in Tampa. Construction there is under way.
The stores are part of a building boom in Florida for the California-based retailer, which is opening locations in Boca Raton, Delray Beach, Jacksonville Beach, Orlando, Palm Beach Gardens, Wellington and Winter Park.
"Developers and retailers recognize that St. Petersburg is a city on the move,'' Mayor Bill Foster said. "The demographics, traffic counts and population supports having a first-class concept like Trader Joe's in the city.''
Foster has never shopped at a Trader Joe's but has heard the buzz. He expected that the company would start submitting paperwork for the project in November and would meet with abutting neighbors to ensure "all foreseeable kinks are worked out.''
Word of Trader Joe's plans started circulating about a month ago when business owners on the block were notified that the property was to be sold in January. A few have found new locations. Ringside Cafe, a popular restaurant and music venue, will move downtown to the Club Detroit spot at 16 Second St. N. on Dec. 1. Classy Closet, a clothing consignment store, will relocate to 540 Central Ave. on Dec. 14.
Ringside owner Greg Pugh said moving after 26 years is bittersweet.
"It's sad, but St. Pete is growing in a positive manner,'' he said. "It's hard to let go of some traditions, but the good news for us is that we're moving the tradition. We feel very good about it.''
Jeanette Ohanian isn't so sure. After four years, her consignment store, Classy Closet, has gained a following. Moving will be risky and expensive.
"I thought that St. Petersburg was about small shops,'' said Ohanian, who owns the store with her daughter, Alex. "We're taking away all these mom-and-pops and putting in banks and grocery stores on every corner.''
Still, she remains optimistic. "We'll pick up the pieces and go and hope our clientele will go with us.''
Jim McLoughlin, founder of the 4th Street Boxing Club, a hub for young fighters, doesn't know what the club's future holds. He has been looking at sites but can't find a comparable place the gym can afford.
"I'm not going to let the kids down,'' he said. "I'll find somewhere to train them, even if we have to go to a smaller space.''
Trader Joe's attracts a cultlike following with its distinctive products, affordable prices and private label brands. Local fans accustomed to traveling a long way to reach a store said they are thrilled at the idea of having two stores nearby.
"Finally,'' said Pat Mundy of Spring Hill, who road trips to Trader Joe's every several months. "I think it's wonderful. People are going to absolutely love it. I just hope there's enough parking.''
Store officials have said little about the new store except that it will sell beer and wine, including Trader Joe's famous Two Buck Chuck, which sells for $2.99 at most stores.
Trader Joe's is moving to a stretch of Fourth Street N that already has four grocery stores in the immediate vicinity — two Publix stores, a Fresh Market and a GFS Marketplace.
Steven Kirn, executive director of the David F. Miller Retailing Education and Research Center at the University of Florida, said Trader Joe's typically looks for central locations in densely populated areas, regardless of nearby competition.
Stores become destinations for shoppers looking for items they can't find at their traditional grocer.
"When you have something unique to offer that distinguishes you from the competition, then you become more fearless about entering a market,'' he said.
Susan Thurston can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 225-3110. Follow @susan_thurston on Twitter.