Melton and Loretta Harris aren't sure how long they have been shopping at the Hostess store on Harney Road in Tampa, but they know it's been a while.
"Plenty of times," said Loretta Harris, 57. "I can't even count on my fingers."
Now that Hostess Brands is closing its stores after a nationwide strike stopped production, the Seminole Heights couple isn't sure where they'll shop. Bay area stores, including the one in Tampa and another in Clearwater, plan to close soon. But first, they have inventory to sell.
The Harrises were in the Tampa store Monday buying bread and snack cakes, just like they've done for years, skipping other grocery stores to save money.
"You can't beat the deals," said Melton Harris, 58.
The Harney Road staff figures the store has been there at least a decade. Brenda Pruitt of Zephyrhills started working for the company 25 years ago in an office off Nebraska Avenue in Tampa.
Pruitt, a store clerk, wishes both sides could have come to some kind of agreement, she said, "with the economy the way that it is."
"It was a great job," she said. "It is a great job."
As for what's next, she laughs. "I don't know." She and her husband have a 16-year-old daughter and bills to pay. "My main concern is insurance."
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In Clearwater on Monday, Sharon Farahani and her husband, Fred, dumped an armful of Twinkies into a yellow shopping basket.
They'd recently survived Hurricane Sandy with a mountain of the pastries.
Farahani, who now lives in Clearwater, laughs at the memory: When the storm hit her Connecticut town, she sped to the nearest convenience store, where boxes of Twinkies were on sale for a dollar. She filled her cart, thinking: This will be funny.
To continue the joke, she plans to stuff her final Hostess purchases into her children's stockings.
"This," she said, "is our Christmas shopping."
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Carol Grubb's 32-year-old daughter, Elizabeth, sent her to the Harney Road store to get doughnuts and cupcakes. They don't want to sell the cakes on eBay like some people are doing, they just want to enjoy them like her three grown children did when they were young.
"It helped with money, with finances, being able to cut costs any way we could," said Grubbs, 61, who lives in Tampa.
Temple Terrace resident Kelly Rivera, 30, stopped in Monday to pick up a loaf of bread.
For the past two years, he made a weekly trek to the store. He called the coming closure the end of an era.
At the store, the Twinkies have been gone since Sunday, except for a few stashed in the back. White bread, the D'Italiano brand bread, and many other Hostess snack cakes — fruit pies, Donettes, Zingers, Honey Buns — are still on the shelves. Customers can buy bread for 50 cents a loaf. Snack cakes are 10 for $4, $5 for a full tray's worth and $6 to take the tray, too.
Keeley Sheehan can be reached at (813) 226-3321 or firstname.lastname@example.org.