Wednesday, April 25, 2018
News Roundup

Midtown Walmart off to a good start, officials say

ST. PETERSBURG

Yanira Avezuela pushed a radio into her back pocket and slipped in an earpiece under her dark, crimped hair. A green elastic key chain was wrapped around her right arm and on the counter in front of her was a PalmPilot linked to each checkout lane.

A fellow manager studied the schedule and listed who was off, who was late, who had called out. Customers streamed through the electric sliding doors at Midtown's new Walmart and the checkout lines grew. Her eight-hour shift just beginning, Avezuela took a deep breath.

Before the store's late-January opening, she was hired as a part-time employee, earning $8.35 an hour. She's now a customer service manager, a promotion that came with a small raise and a 38-hour work week. Avezuela, a mother of two, has lost 25 pounds.

"So much stress," she said, before quickly noting it's a good stress. "I wouldn't change anything."

For Midtown, the honeymoon with its neighborhood grocer has yet to end, and store and city officials say business is off to a promising start.

Walmart took over a building that had been empty for almost a year after Sweetbay Supermarket closed, leaving an already poor area without a neighborhood market. At the time, then-Mayor Bill Foster said he was shocked by the closure, though supermarket officials insisted they had warned him of the troubles.

New Mayor Rick Kriseman's staff has vowed to closely monitor the health of the new store.

"We definitely are making sure that we stay in close contact," said Nikki Gaskin-Capehart, the city's director of urban affairs.

Gaskin-Capehart, who knows manager Carl Spady on a first-name basis, shops often at the store and finds the parking lot almost always full.

"It speaks to the need," she said.

Walmart officials, she added, have told city staff that the store is hitting its revenue targets every week except the last one of the month.

The challenge, Spady said, has been spreading awareness. Employees continue to meet customers shopping there for the first time who only recently learned of the opening.

To better serve the local market, the store will begin to scale back on items that haven't sold well — like healthy frozen meals and gluten-free options — and bring in others that are in high demand, like organ meats and collard greens.

Spady, who commutes each day from his home in Tampa, has been with Walmart for about eight years. He was with Target, but moved because Walmart offered him more of a chance to do the kind of work he's doing now.

Spady took the Midtown store understanding the challenge but intent on making it succeed. He was in contact with the local Boys & Girls Club and the Pinellas County Urban League before the store even opened.

Avezuela, 32, was among those employees who lost her job when Sweetbay closed. Internal theft, she said, had been rampant there and was among the reasons the store struggled.

Spady said Walmart has caught just one employee stealing from the store.

At the community's request, Spady said they hired a third-party security company to ensure customers feel safe. They now pay off-duty St. Petersburg police officers instead.

In the past three months, officers have filed 31 reports in response to calls for service at the shopping center's address.

As was hoped, Walmart's presence has reinvigorated businesses in Tangerine Plaza at 22nd Street and 18th Avenue S. Business at Meme's Beauty Gallery had dropped by more than 60 percent in 2013 but has begun to recover.

"It's picked up well," said Nikita Lane, the salon owner's sister. "Now she's getting walk-ins."

The clientele has grown so much that the salon may hire new stylists.

Employees at a nearby Chinese restaurant and a clothing store also said they've had boosts in foot traffic, and revenue, in recent months.

Such collateral effects didn't surprise Spady.

"We're trying," he said, "to be a store of the community."

John Woodrow Cox can be reached at [email protected]

Comments
Carlos Gomez says he was guilty of only one thing in Sunday’s epic walkoff homer celebration

Carlos Gomez says he was guilty of only one thing in Sunday’s epic walkoff homer celebration

BALTIMORE – Carlos Gomez is perfectly willing to explain the specific elements that went into his epic celebration tour around the bases following Sunday's walkoff home run.The bat flip and raised arms were his initial reaction to how well he h...
Updated: 2 hours ago

High school scoreboard for April 24

Tuesday’s scoreboardBaseballCalvary Chr. 8, Jesuit 1Boys TennisClass 3A, District 9-10 Regional Semifinal: Osceola 4, King 1Girls TennisClass 3A, District 9-10 Regional Semifinal: Osceola 4, Freedom 1...
Updated: 4 hours ago
Days before graduation, crash kills Lakewood High senior, injures two others

Days before graduation, crash kills Lakewood High senior, injures two others

ST. PETERSBURG — Caps and gowns were in the future for Bryson Welton-Williams and his two friends.Then came Tuesday’s horrific car crash.The three 18-year-old Lakewood High School seniors drove off from school a few minutes early, just 22 days away f...
Updated: 4 hours ago
SRO being investigated in Pasco County for arrest of student

SRO being investigated in Pasco County for arrest of student

LAND O’LAKES — A school resource officer at Sunlake High School is under investigation after he tried to take a female student into custody on Tuesday, according to the Pasco County Sheriff’s Office.School officials asked the SRO remove the student f...
Updated: 4 hours ago
Teen killed after SUV runs red light; man who fled scene captured

Teen killed after SUV runs red light; man who fled scene captured

NEW PORT RICHEY — A 17-year-old girl was killed Tuesday when her car was hit by a sport-utility vehicle that ran a red light, according to the Florida Highway Patrol.One of the occupants of the SUV who ran from the crash scene was captured hours late...
Updated: 4 hours ago
Softball: Haley Murphy, East Bay back in top form

Softball: Haley Murphy, East Bay back in top form

PLANT CITY — East Bay senior Haley Murphy had to take a few games off early this season to give the flaring tendinitis in her left knee a rest.When Murphy did come back around midseason, East Bay coach Glenn Rodriguez eased her into the fl...
Updated: 5 hours ago
Sarasota student, family apologize for racist ‘promposal’

Sarasota student, family apologize for racist ‘promposal’

The family of the 18-year-old Sarasota high school student under fire for the racist prom proposal he sent out on social media this weekend has publicly apologized for their son’s actions.They also said that as a result of his actions, he will not at...
Updated: 5 hours ago

Softball: Boca Ciega gets a shot at defending district champ

DUNEDIN — Standing in centerfield during her team's Class 6A-9 district semifinal Tuesday night, Boca Ciega's Mia Blasingane had one dominating thought: "We want Tarpon Springs real bad. I was saying that to myself. I want to see Tarpon Springs...
Updated: 5 hours ago

Softball: Alonso knocks off defending state finalist PHU in 9A-8 semifinals

PALM HARBOR — To get an idea of just how tough the competition is in Class 9A, District 8, consider that there has been a different tournament champion each of the past three seasons.All three — Newsome (2015), Alonso (2016) and Palm Harb...
Updated: 5 hours ago
Rays Journal: On the early rainout, pitching plans, medical matters, more

Rays Journal: On the early rainout, pitching plans, medical matters, more

BALTIMORE – If the Rays were going to get rained out Tuesday, they were happy  the Orioles made the decision at a good hour, around 5 p.m."I think they probably did the right thing in the fact that they knew there's a bunch of rain coming,...
Updated: 5 hours ago