Make us your home page

Sue Carlton: Another piece of Tampa about to close

Lately I find myself driving past Tampa's ghosts, even the ghost of its smells. Where Palios Bros. restaurant once stood, I swear I still get that county-fair scent of just-fried chicken. An open-air farmer's market that is now a medical office building always smelled of fresh-turned earth. Castellano & Pizzo, the old-school Italian store with its mixed scents of baked bread, musky olives and good cheeses, shut down late last year, another heartbreaker.

New can be good — a chain gourmet market, a high-end restaurant, a closer Target. But when the bars and stores and shops that make up the heart and crust of a town go, they go for good.

Now it's the old Army Navy Surplus Market at the edge of downtown. The business has been part of this place forever, selling tents and dog tags and all things camo piled to the ceiling. Stepping inside its dim and clutter is like passing through a portal, into smells of old burlap and metal, history and dust, a place to get lost in.

Of course, military types came to sift through fatigues, helmets, canteens and lace-up boots. Cops, too. Campers came for blue-speckled cook pots and minnow buckets, workers for Dickies coveralls and stiff Lee jeans. The homeless counted out coins for reflective vests for panhandling, wool blankets and thick Army socks. A contingent has always been interested in the brass knuckles, lethal-looking batons and canes topped with carved skulls. Certain churches, I am told, regularly bought camo for what were called "War With the Devil" events.

And with every prediction that the world would soon end came those seeking camp stoves, water purification tablets and MREs. The most recent dire prognostication? "Oh, we were busy then," store manager Awilda Lebron tells me. She wears a camo jacket and Hello Kitty earrings, and says she wrote on their receipts, "See you tomorrow!" Tomorrow always came.

This place also had a way of drawing in people you might not expect, partiers wanting matching dog tags, suburbanites hunting Halloween costumes, college kids needing footlockers.

Mayor Bob Buckhorn, known for his natty Brooks Brothers look (and, the occasional pair of pants so plaid you must shade your eyes), has himself walked these aisles to outfit himself for a duck hunt.

"Everybody — judges, bankers, lawyers, workers, reporters like you," owner Nick Potamitis rumbles from behind the counter where he has been for decades. He's right; I came in for camo pants my young nephews loved and added canteens and binoculars that were better than anything I could have found at Toys "R" Us. When my niece went to college, I got her pepper spray here, safety against the world.

Potamitis says it is time to retire, so the clearance sale started this week and ends when it's all gone. He says the property owner may rent to someone else — though given downtown's recent uptick it's not hard to imagine another tall, shiny building here, not far from where the old Goody Goody restaurant smelled of searing burgers doused in secret special sauce, until it closed, too.

At the register I inhale the dusty smell and buy a blue-speckled metal ladle, and also more pepper spray, a thing to make you feel safe. Because the world keeps changing. And where's a town supposed to get its brass knuckles and camo then?

Sue Carlton: Another piece of Tampa about to close 02/21/13 [Last modified: Thursday, February 21, 2013 11:26pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. In advertising, marketing diversity needs a boost in Tampa Bay, nationally


    TAMPA — Trimeka Benjamin was focused on a career in broadcast journalism when she entered Bethune-Cookman University.

    From left, Swim Digital marketing owner Trimeka Benjamin discusses the broad lack of diversity in advertising and marketing with 22 Squared copywriter Luke Sokolewicz, University of Tampa advertising/PR professor Jennifer Whelihan, Rumbo creative director George Zwierko and Nancy Vaughn of the White Book Agency. The group recently met at The Bunker in Ybor City.
  2. Tampa Club president seeks assessment fee from members


    TAMPA — The president of the Tampa Club said he asked members last month to pay an additional assessment fee to provide "additional revenue." However, Ron Licata said Friday that the downtown business group is not in a dire financial situation.

    Ron Licata, president of the Tampa Club in downtown Tampa. [Tampa Club]
  3. Under Republican health care bill, Florida must make up $7.5 billion


    If a Senate bill called the Better Care Reconciliation Act of 2017 becomes law, Florida's government would need to make up about $7.5 billion to maintain its current health care system. The bill, which is one of the Republican Party's long-promised answers to the Affordable Care Act imposes a cap on funding per enrollee …

    Florida would need to cover $7.5 billion to keep its health care program under the Republican-proposed Better Care Reconciliation Act of 2017.  [Times file photo]
  4. Amid U.S. real estate buying binge by foreign investors, Florida remains first choice

    Real Estate

    Foreign investment in U.S. residential real estate recently skyrocketed to a new high with nearly half of all foreign sales happening in Florida, California and Texas.

    A National Association of Realtors annual survey found record volume and activity by foreign buyers of U.S. real estate. Florida had the highest foreign investment activity, followed by California and Texas. [National Association of Realtors]
  5. Trigaux: Tampa Bay health care leaders wary of getting too far ahead in disruptive times


    Are attempts to repeal Obamacare dead for the foreseeable future? Might the Affordable Care Act (ACA), now in dire limbo, be revived? Will Medicaid coverage for the most in need be gutted? Can Republicans now in charge of the White House, Senate and House ever agree to deliver a substitute health care plan that people …

    Natalia Ricabal of Lutz, 12 years old, joined other pediatric cancer patients in Washington in July to urge Congress to protect Medicaid coverage that helped patients like Ricabal fight cancer. She was diagnosed with Ewing's sarcoma in 2013 and has undergone extensive treatments at BayCare's St. Joseph's Children's Hospital in Tampa. [Courtesy of BayCare]