ST. PETERSBURG — Dorothy Davis spent $34.01 in a little over an hour Wednesday at the new Midtown Walmart Neighborhood Market.
Near the meat cooler in the back, Davis, 64, grabbed a package of ground beef and a bag of tilapia filets. She pulled a 12-pack of Coke from the display where cases were arranged to spell "MIDTOWN" and dropped a package of hot dogs in her cart.
"My grandbaby loves these," she said. "He's 5 years old."
Davis and her sister, 77-year-old Queen E. Flowers, came to the new store's opening about 7:15 a.m. They waited through a ribbon-cutting and a message from the city's deputy mayor because they wanted to celebrate the reappearance of a grocery store in their neighborhood.
A Sweetbay Supermarket used to occupy this space at 1794 22nd St. S, but it closed last February.
"This Midtown community has been without a grocery store for a total of a year," store manager Carl Spady said. "That's just totally unacceptable."
Until Wednesday, Davis shopped at a Walmart farther away. This one is only a five-minute drive from her home.
"I'm excited," Davis said. "I'm excited for the ones who don't have transportation and can come here, and for the ones who do have transportation, they can stop by on their way to work."
Shoppers lined up outside the store before dawn.
Joanne Coley, 58, took care of her Super Bowl shopping Wednesday. "I've been waiting for this all year," she said.
Coley said a spot like this could bring people together, and Walmart pulled out all the stops to emphasize community connection. Local leaders said that Midtown badly needed this new addition and called the failure of Sweetbay a lesson on the need to support their local grocery, said Deputy Mayor Kanika Tomalin.
Tomalin said Walmart's lower prices could help, as well.
"They understand the critical role that location plays for that neighborhood, and they've pledged their partnership to do everything they can to make it work," Tomalin said.
Spady said Walmart is ready. Aisles were packed and cash registers were busy Wednesday morning, while free cake and snack samples dotted most corners.
"We just want to be a pillar in this community," Spady said.
Many employees live nearby. Walmart employs 105 people at this location.
Trailed by her sister, Davis ran into Spady near the checkout line. The store manager tried to shake her hand and thank her for shopping. She refused.
"I'm not done yet!" she told him.
Claire Wiseman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8804. Follow @clairelwiseman on Twitter.