ST. PETERSBURG — Businesses in the 2700 block of Fourth Street N will be closing soon and employees think it's to make room for Trader Joe's, the grocery chain known for discount prices on eclectic and gourmet foods.
Ringside Cafe, the Classy Closet and others received a letter from their landlord Friday stating the block was set to be sold in January.
"We know it's Trader Joe's," said Alex Ohanian, Classy Closet manager. "That's what everyone here has heard." Her store is moving to 540 Central Ave. in December.
"We're really sorry to have to go," said longtime barber Dave Happ, who works next door at Northeast Pyramid Barber Shop. "I don't think there is any chance they are going to back out. I think it's a done deal." He's not sure where the barber shop, which has been on Fourth Street since the 1960s, will end up.
City Council member Leslie Curran, who represents the district that includes the property, said she has heard around town that Trader Joe's is moving to the site but has no official word from City Hall.
"I want to think it's a good fit for the neighborhood. Other Trader Joe's bring a lot of traffic. It's great to have new businesses but they really need to be sensitive to the neighborhood," she said.
Mayor Bill Foster said he could not confirm or deny if Trader Joe's is coming to Fourth Street.
Greg Pugh, who has owned the Ringside Cafe with his wife Kelly for 20 years, plans to relocate the popular bar and restaurant that features live music.
"I've been actively pursing options and have been approached by a number of people, and we have one very exciting possibility in particular that will be great for Ringside, the employees, St. Pete and the music scene," he said. "St. Pete is about places like Ringside and Harvey's (4th Street Grill). I'm not knocking Trader Joe's but St. Pete is about the independent places. I think we want to maintain that individuality."
Pugh has seen surveyors and others looking at the property for several months and repeatedly asked his landlord if it was being sold. He was told no.
"I don't like to be in this kind of position nor do I like having my employees in this kind of position," he said. Some have worked there for 15 to 20 years.
Chuck Ross, who owns the site with other investors, recently told the Times it was not listed for sale, but added: "I'm not saying I would never sell the property."
Ross has applied for permission from the city to demolish three houses that back up to the businesses and build a parking lot for 38 cars. He said the parking was needed for the businesses, which also includes 4th Street Boxing, yet the tenants said more parking isn't needed.
Staying mum is part of Trader Joe's strategy to build demand and excitement. A store in Tampa at 3808 W Swann Ave. is expected to open in 2014. The company didn't announce it until several months after filing paperwork with the city.
Melissa Greene's face lit up Monday when she heard Trader Joe's might be coming to Fourth Street, but she quickly said she hopes Casita Taqueria, where she was picking up lunch, will find a place nearby to reopen. The restaurant has had a second anniversary party in the works for a few weeks, set for Oct. 12.
"It's good news and bad news," said Greene, who was a frequent Trader Joe's customer when she lived in Atlanta. "It has specialty items you can't get at a regular grocery store. "
The California-based Trader Joe's has carved out a niche in the gourmet grocery segment selling fewer but more unique products than competitors. It offers more than 2,000 items under the Trader Joe's private label and introduces about a dozen new products weekly.
Katherine Snow Smith can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 893-8785.