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Citrus Groves to give way to car dealership

Ryan McMahon, 13, protests the loss of the citrus trees and the closing of Citrus Country Groves store on U.S. 19 recently. The trees were cut down to make way for a Dick Norris car dealership. The teenager plans to continue to protest the groves’ demise.

WILLIE J. ALLEN JR. | Times

Ryan McMahon, 13, protests the loss of the citrus trees and the closing of Citrus Country Groves store on U.S. 19 recently. The trees were cut down to make way for a Dick Norris car dealership. The teenager plans to continue to protest the groves’ demise.

His arm in a green cast, 13-year-old Ryan McMahon spent all day recently holding a sign outside of the Citrus Country Groves packinghouse. Honk to Save Citrus Groves, the sign said. (And go Rays). "I was actually counting how many people honked their horns but stopped after 600,'' he said. "It started getting too hard. I was messing up.'' But he is probably too late to save one of Pinellas County's last surviving groves. With most of the trees already cut down — a small stand remains in the back — the landmark where locals have brought their out-of-town guests to buy grapefruit, oranges and creamy citrus ice cream for more than 60 years is going to be razed. Sometime in the future, car dealer Dick Norris plans to build a car lot on the property, which is at 18200 U.S. 19 N, on the southwest corner of U.S. 19 and Belleair Road.

Norris bought the land, which came in two pieces, in May for $4.8-million, according to Pinellas County Property Appraiser's records.

The seller was longtime nurseryman Al Repetto of Seminole, the original owner of the operation, formerly called Orange Blossom Groves.

"I'm going on 85, so I need to get rid of some things,'' Repetto said. "Nothing stays the same.''

Indeed. Largo city commissioners Tuesday night unanimously voted to annex the 10.13-acre parcel into the city. Norris has filed a site plan with the city to move the project ahead, according to Teresa Brydon, Largo's economic development manager.

Norris would not comment except to say "right now, it's business as usual. It could happen in a year, two years, anytime. I don't have any dates.''

He has two car lots in Pinellas County, one in Palm Harbor and one just a block or two from Citrus Country Groves.

Jim Guedry, owner of Citrus Country Groves, which has operated at the site since October 2005, said his lease will be up in February. Fortunately, he has found some possible sites within a few blocks of the current facility to set up his fruit and vegetable shop.

"I would like to stay as close as possible to that store,'' Guedry said.

He said he may close down in December and Norris may start construction in January.

None of this will make Ryan happy. Born and raised in Clearwater, he lives just three minutes away from Citrus Country Groves and used to love it when his mom and dad drove him past it.

"Since they cut the trees in back, it's devastating to drive by,'' he said.

Last week, Ryan, who will be a freshman at Largo High School in the fall, heard that the car lot was coming before he went on vacation to Buffalo to visit family.

With one wing in a sling, he had some time on his hands and decided to stage a one-man protest.

"I'm going to come back as long as it takes for somebody to hear me and we can make a plan,'' Ryan said.

Management brought him a bottle of water and wished him well.

Eileen Schulte can be reached at schulte@sptimes.com or (727) 445-4153.

Citrus Groves to give way to car dealership 07/15/08 [Last modified: Saturday, July 19, 2008 7:12am]
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