Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Leaders vow to keep Sweetbay in Midtown

ST. PETERSBURG — They met as one in the parking lot of the Sweetbay Supermarket to reassure a community often resigned to defeat.

They will not give up, the politicians and community leaders pledged. Every avenue is being pursued to keep the supermarket and shopping center anchor in place. At the same time — just in case — they are urgently trying to contact other grocery chains to get them to consider the Tangerine Plaza site so Midtown will not be left barren.

"It's important that the community understands that many of the political leaders consider this an important priority," said City Council chairman Karl Nurse, who represents a large portion of Midtown. "The worst thing that can happen is that it closes and we do nothing."

So mid Monday morning, after the annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. breakfast at the Coliseum, city officials and others made their way to the store at 1794 22nd St. S to lay out their plans and hopes.

A constant refrain was that this Midtown supermarket, which emerged after years of struggle, is much more than a grocery store. "It's about the dignity of a neighborhood," Mayor Bill Foster said. The plan, he said, "is to get to Sweetbay and tell the story."

Sweetbay announced last week that it will shutter 33 stores, including 22 in the Tampa Bay area. The Midtown store, Foster said, will officially close Feb. 13.

But Foster fears the aisles will go dark as soon as shoppers empty the shelves and coolers of meat and produce. Trucks will not deliver new shipments, Foster added.

With the clock ticking, Foster said the community might have less than two weeks to reverse the decision. Foster said none of the other stores slated for closure is the epicenter of redevelopment for a 5.5-square-mile area like Midtown.

Politicians and community leaders decried Sweetbay for not sharing sales' figures for the Midtown store, which has 73 employees. They also lambasted Sweetbay's Belgian parent company, Delhaize Group, for ignoring repeated calls to talk about the store.

No elected official, or the store's landlord, has heard from Sweetbay executives.

Larry Newsome, of Urban Development Solutions, the shopping center's landlord, heard of the planned closing on the news. "All we've heard so far is that a letter is in the mail," Newsome said.

As speakers discussed the importance of keeping Sweetbay, shoppers and employees cheered in the parking lot. A passing driver shouted: "Save our Sweetbay."

"All we're asking is for Sweetbay to work with us," said Urban League president Watson Haynes.

City officials say $1.4 million in public money was spent to build Tangerine Plaza, where the community's only supermarket opened in 2005.

"We cannot let this building go dark," said State Rep. Darryl Rouson, who helped acquire land for the shopping center.

While the closing is an economic development issue, it also is a public health issue, when people are unable to get fresh foods, said Pinellas County Commissioner Ken Welch. "One of the things that Martin Luther King fought for was social and economic equality," Welch said.

School Board member Rene Flowers said she shops at the supermarket even though there is another closer to her home. "It would be so hypocritical of me to say, 'Shop at Sweetbay,' and I didn't," she said.

Former Mayor Rick Baker, who helped steer millions of dollars to Midtown during his term, still shops at the supermarket "every few weeks."

"It's a key anchor to the Midtown redevelopment," he said.

Nurse said the city needs "to show that this area is coming back."

"There is good stuff happening or in the works that will lead to a brighter future for folks," he said. "The problem is really a symptom of an area that needs more people, more money, more jobs and so we need to keep working on all of those things.

Neighborhood activist Theresa "Momma Tee" Lassiter was succinct when discussing the supermarket's closing. "That's a hot disaster," she said. "I do believe that the city needs to work as hard to keep it as we did to get it."

The gathering ended with a prayer from the Rev. Manuel Sykes, pastor of Bethel Community Baptist Church and president of the St. Petersburg chapter of the NAACP. "We thank you in advance for victory," he prayed.

Behind him, a large sign on the store read: "Thank you for your loyalty. This store is closing soon."

Waveney Ann Moore can be reached at or (727) 892-2293.

St. Petersburg Mayor Bill Foster, flanked by Pinellas School Board member Rene Flowers and state Rep. Darryl Rouson, talks on Monday about the closing of the Sweetbay Market in Tangerine Plaza, Midtown’s only supermarket. 


St. Petersburg Mayor Bill Foster, flanked by Pinellas School Board member Rene Flowers and state Rep. Darryl Rouson, talks on Monday about the closing of the Sweetbay Market in Tangerine Plaza, Midtown’s only supermarket. 

Leaders vow to keep Sweetbay in Midtown 01/21/13 [Last modified: Wednesday, January 23, 2013 5:33pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Video: Heroic Hooters manager helps two sheriff's deputies subdue unruly customer


    BRANDON — The Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office praised a heroic Hooters Restaurant manager Wednesday for coming to the aid of two deputies struggling to subdue an unruly customer.

    It took two deputies and a Hooter's manager to get control of Ashton B. Toney after he threatened to kill an employee who refused to serve him alcohol at a Hooter's in Brandon, the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office reported.
[Booking photo from the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office]
  2. Editorial: Turn the heat up on AC problem in Hillsborough schools


    Hillsborough County School District students do not want to hear that their buildings are decrepit. They do not want to hear that Florida's legislators are complicit. All they want to hear is the sweet sound of a classroom air conditioner kicking in at full power. Anything less creates uncomfortably hot classrooms and …

    Superintendent Jeff Eakins and the current Hillsborough County School Board did not create this air conditioning mess, but they own it now.
  3. Man in bunny mask part of trio that breaks into Odessa McDonald's to haul away ATM


    ODESSA — A man in a bunny mask and two also-masked accomplices broke into a McDonald's early Wednesday, hoisted an automatic teller machine into a stolen minivan, then dumped the ATM and the van into a pond, deputies say.

    Three masked men, including one in a bunny mask, broke into an Odessa McDonald's early Wednesday and stole the ATM.
 [Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office]
  4. Plan your weekend Aug. 25-27: Craig Morgan, Wearable Art 13, SNL's Pete Davidson, Rodeo Fest


    Plan your weekend


    Pete Davidson: Saturday Night Live star Pete Davidson will headline this year's University of South Florida Round-Up Comedy Show, a back-to-school tradition at USF. Expect to hear about his recent trip to rehab, since he's known for his confessional …

    The 12th annual Wearable art Fashion Show was held at the Dunedin Fine Art Center on Saturday evening, August 27, 2016.
DAVID W DOONAN | Special To The Times
  5. Richard Corcoran takes aim at public financing of campaigns

    State Roundup

    TALLAHASSEE — House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O'Lakes, may not be running for governor — not yet anyway — but his latest idea will get the attention of those who are.

    House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R- Land O' Lakes, is proposing an end to public financing of campaigns. [SCOTT KEELER | Tampa Bay Times]