Thursday, December 14, 2017
Business

Possible arrival of Trader Joe's vexes South Tampa neighborhood

TAMPA — The grocery store that is not just a grocery store is causing angst in a small corner of South Tampa, and its birth hasn't even been confirmed.

"The ladies were crying this morning," said Yve Cocho, a manager at Einstein Bros Bagels, of the women who have worked out together for years at the neighboring Shapes gym, a possible location for Trader Joe's — the most hyped grocery store arrival in Tampa in recent memory.

Fans of the California-based grocery chain speak reverently of its products: the Thai lime-and-chile cashews, the cookie butter, the triple ginger snap cookies, the spicy hummus. In 2011, two New York moms got into a slap fight over a package of Trader Joe's frozen vegan pad thai with tofu.

Karen Miller isn't familiar with Trader Joe's, but stories about the passion people have for the store make her worried for her neighborhood.

"It's freaking me out," said Miller, who is the vice president of the Swann Estates Neighborhood Association.

She lives on Swann Avenue, four houses from the rumored site near Dale Mabry Highway. But she said other neighbors she's spoken with don't seem worried. They are excited and curious about the store, she said.

No one knows what having a Trader Joe's there will be like, Miller said. She envisions the small parking lot being overstuffed, with cars parked on side streets, the roads clogged.

"It's going to be shocking when you can't get out of your driveway," Miller said.

Clay Hall lives about a block from the potential site. He and his wife have four boys, ages 2, 7 and 4-year-old twins. But they don't let them play in the front yard because traffic is heavy as it is. Although much of Swann Avenue is two lanes, it's often used by drivers getting to Dale Mabry Highway.

"It's already a cut-through street," he said. "So I guess it's just going to get worse."

The rumored arrival of a Trader Joe's has been shrouded in secrecy, but the gym near the corner of Swann and Dale Mabry appears to be a good bet. A bid document for "Trader Joe's/Tampa'' calls for demolition of the existing structure and construction of a 12,300-square-foot building. Blueprints list the project as TJ-Tampa. The architectural drawing of the storefront shows "Tenant Sign'' in the Hawaiian-style lettering widely used by Trader Joe's.

Tracy Donald, a Shapes instructor, said the women's fitness gym hasn't made an official announcement, but classes are being canceled. Some of the women have worked out there together for decades.

"We are like a family," said Josie Fernandez, who is 80 and has been exercising there four to five days a week for 20 years.

After their classes, many women walk across the street to Einstein Bros Bagels for a whole-wheat bagel and coffee. They buy cards for the restaurant's staff on holidays. And the staff sings to them on their birthdays.

"I feel so bad for them," Cocho said. She worries about lost business from the Shapes customers and about congested roadways.

But Einstein's general manager, Lucito Cesar, said he thinks the grocery store might bring in more lunch customers. And after a grand-opening frenzy, he hopes, traffic might not be an issue.

"We just have to wait and see," Cesar said. "It's going to be a big change."

Maria Pelaez, owner of StarGate Academy day care, said she isn't worried about increased traffic. Her child care facility, which has about 65 children from infants to 12-year-olds, also is across the street from Shapes. She said having a grocery store might be convenient.

"It will be nice to have something close," she said.

Times researcher Caryn Baird and staff writer Susan Thurston contributed to this report. Erin Sullivan can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 226-3405.

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