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Sweetbay to close Land O'Lakes store Aug. 1

LAND O'LAKES — Sweetbay is out, Beall's Outlet is in.

Village Lakes shopping center has been trying to reinvent itself since 2009 when anchor Walmart moved a couple of miles away. The strip shopping center, which opened just east of the State Road 54 and U.S. 41 intersection in the early 1980s, is dated, with faded signs and a broken window or two. Another anchor, a furniture consignment store, moved last year to another strip center closer to Collier Parkway.

Now comes the latest announcement that Sweetbay supermarket, formerly Kash N' Karry, a major anchor since the strip mall opened, is closing Aug. 1.

"Our lease was up," said Sweetbay spokeswoman Nicole LaBeau. She said the company typically re-evaluates each store's location as leases expire. Sweetbay at Village Lakes was an older store and would need major remodeling.

In the years since it opened, new Sweetbay stores have opened on Bruce B. Downs Boulevard in Wesley Chapel and on N Dale Mabry Highway, both less than 5 miles from the Sweetbay on State Road 54.

LeBeau said all the Land O'Lakes employees were offered positions at other locations, so no jobs were lost. The store now has 30 employees who will stay until the closing date.

While employees get a good deal, customers won't see any closeout prices. All inventory will be moved to other stores.

The moving plans have upset some longtime customers, who say the lack of a store close by will create a hardship. Pamela Owens of Odessa even started an online petition drive: "Sweetbay Supermarket: Keep the store in Land O'Lakes, FL open."

As of Friday, 12 people had signed.

"I have an elderly mother who needs two knee replacement surgeries, and this is the closest store to our home," wrote Theresa Allende, who has back, neck and shoulder injuries. "We do not want to have to drive the extra five miles to Publix to shop for the food we need when Sweetbay is where we prefer to shop. It would be an extra burden, especially for my mother, who can hardly walk without her walker to drive that extra five miles."

The store is across the street from several housing developments and an RV park.

"Businesses make financial decisions that we as government can't control," said County Commissioner Ann Hildebrand. This is why mass transit is so important, she said, especially as the baby boomers age.

"I think there will be a big clamor for this service," she said.

Analysts have said that while the shopping center might be outdated, they expect it to bounce back because of its location along the SR 54. Last year, an Asian buffet restaurant opened, and earlier this week, the Beall's Outlet sign went up on a section of the old Walmart.

Sweetbay to close Land O'Lakes store Aug. 1 07/01/11 [Last modified: Friday, July 1, 2011 9:30pm]

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