SEMINOLE — Ivy Lippard and her husband used $20,000 from their retirement fund to open Cake Affection bakery and counted on steady traffic from the new Walmart across the street and families from Keswick Christian School stopping in after school to grab a cupcake.
Now a median that went up recently makes it difficult for either customer base to get to the store at 4691 100th Way N.
"We just signed our lease March 1. We actually looked at several different properties in this area, and one of the reasons we really chose this location was it was such easy access from all directions," said Lippard, a 36-year-old mother of four. "Now we already know at least half of our business will be cut off because there is no way to get in here."
Khattar Baydoun, who has run Bay Pines Grocery & Deli for more than two decades, stood in his parking lot watching construction workers leave the Walmart site, the former Bay Pines Mobile Home Park, and bypass his store because the median forces them to make a right turn instead of going across the street.
"Look at that. There go my customers," he said. "To be here 25 years and overnight Walmart can come in put up a median that pretty much blocks customers from coming in, it's ridiculous."
He estimates that business is down 90 percent since the median went in because most of his customers stop in on their way out of Bay Pines Estates in the morning or after dinner. Now they can't turn left into his store as they leave the area.
The median was installed to better control the increased traffic Walmart will bring to the intersection, according to Tom Washburn, Pinellas County traffic engineer.
He acknowledged that the road work has cut direct access from the southbound lanes of 100th Way to several businesses.
"We did take a look at (putting a break in the median) but we are very concerned about the conflicts providing a break would create there," Washburn said. He said that while southbound motorists can't turn left into the stores from 100th Way, they can make a left on Bay Pines Boulevard, then go down and make a U-turn on 98th Way N, and then make a right on 100th Way to have access.
"Customers will think it's a big inconvenience to get in and out of," said Agee Luong, owner of On-Site Marine Upholstery. He has commercial clients like spas and hotels that will still see him as a destination, but he will have much less exposure to residential customers, he said.
Baydoun, the minimart owner, agrees. "I count on selling a pack of cigarettes or selling a six-pack of beer. If it's too hard to get here, people can get that somewhere else," he said.
He wonders how the large trucks that deliver beer to the store will exit the area. They can't make a U-turn at the end of the median, which is a tight squeeze even for a small car. Yet they aren't allowed to go through the residential neighborhood at the end of 100th Way.
"If nobody will deliver to me, I can't stay in business," he said.
Washburn said he understands these business owners' frustration but checked with the city of Seminole and didn't see any of them on record as attending or speaking out at public hearings about the Walmart and road changes.
The business owners say they were not aware of the meetings or the plans for the median.
Katherine Snow Smith can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8785.