The letter was dated May 21 and contained a nasty shock for Jimmy E. and Sally L. Fox, owners of Kinney's Seafood Market at Park Street N and Tyrone Boulevard in St. Petersburg.
Signed by a lawyer they did not know, the letter told them their shop, a neighborhood landmark, had been sold to a corporation they never heard of.
Then, in a single sentence, their future _ to say nothing of the last 13 years of their lives _ was dispensed with in the following words:
"Pursuant to the terms of the lease, you are hereby notified that the lease shall be terminated, effective June 30, 1993, at which time you are to vacate the premises."
For the Foxes, this was the final blow, though the previous three months had nearly put them out of business through no fault of their own.
The old tire shop just across the parking lot was torn down and replaced by a new Payless Shoe Source store. The construction nearly blocked off their customers.
"People thought we were closed," Mrs. Fox says. "The street was torn up, and great big trucks were all over the parking lot. If they didn't block our store, they sometimes blocked the view of our store."
She brings out a petition signed by 94 of her customers protesting the clutter. Neither the petition nor protests by the Foxes did any good.
"Later one of the construction people told me I should have yelled louder and maybe they'd have moved the trucks further away."
Mrs. Fox, 54, stares wistfully at the day's special, "Gulf Tuna $5.89," and says, "I protested. But I'm not the kind of person who makes a lot of noise."
"If I hadn't been an invalid, they wouldn't have gotten away with it," says Jimmy Fox, 57, a burly ex-barber who has had bypass heart surgery and a seven-month hospital stay with Guillain-Barre syndrome, a nerve disorder. "Sally is a bubbly-type personality, and this has just been terrible for her."
"I always expect people are going to be nice," Mrs. Fox says. "I'm always surprised when they're not."
They consulted a lawyer but were told their case was not a sure thing and the costs would be heavy. The store never has been a big moneymaker.
"We had three great years with $30,000 to $40,000 profit," Fox says. This was with both Foxes working 12-hour days. Then the economy soured and supermarkets began adding seafood departments.
Profits shrank, but they loved the store. It was a neighborhood institution, nearly a social center, with Mrs. Fox giving out recipes and children going behind the counter to watch Fox filet the big fish.
The Foxes bought Kinney's in 1980. Their children were nearly grown. Mrs. Fox had put in 20 years at a desk job, and her husband wanted out of barbering. "Long hair had come in," he says, glumly.
They got a $20,000 loan at the Rutland Bank. "You knew your banker in those days," he says. "I just went to the man who had loaned me money to set up the barber shop."
Kinney's is in a four-store strip. Two of the stores are vacant. The other also is being evicted.
Ann Callaway has owned Four Corners Beauty Salon for 20 years. She is 67. "I always thought I'd sell my business and get a little nest egg," she says. "But without a lease, nobody will buy it."
No nest egg for the Foxes, either. They closed their store Saturday night. Save for about $3,500 for their equipment, they left with nothing but memories.
So it goes. In a country where people prattle endlessly about the glories of private enterprise, another small business is bullied into extinction. Meanwhile, Jimmy Fox will continue his slow recuperation and Sally Fox will go looking for a job.