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Neighbors protest closing of popular grocery store

The Winn-Dixie at the corner of N Nebraska and Fowler avenues was more than a grocery store to 88-year-old Dorothy Staffer. It was a virtual lifeline.

Built more than 20 years ago, the popular store was close enough to Staffer's home at Acorn Trace Apartments that she could easily get there by cab to do her weekly shopping. Now it's gone.

Winn-Dixie closed the store at 11605 N Nebraska Wednesday, leaving patrons with a note taped to the door directing them to the next two nearest Winn-Dixie stores, several miles away.

On Saturday, Staffer and about 50 of her neighbors _ many of whom came in wheelchairs and walkers _ gathered outside the store Saturday to protest the closing and to draw attention to the neighborhood's need for a grocery store there.

"I have no car and can hardly walk," Staffer said. "I won't be able to come and shop."

Marc Sutherland, marketing director for Winn-Dixie's Tampa division, said in an interview Friday that the company closed the store because it is "old, worn out and expensive to maintain."

Marion Connelly, a civic activist who lives near the store, organized the rally to draw attention to the neighborhood's plight.

Winn-Dixie "should have put it in the paper to let people know," Connelly said. "We didn't have time to campaign against their leaving."

As the area declines and businesses follow the population boom to the north, residents in this north Tampa community are left with fewer and fewer shopping options.

"I have a car, so I don't have to depend on somebody bringing me to the store," said Lillian Briggs, 80, also a resident of Acorn Trace Apartments. "But for people who don't drive or don't have cars, it's terrible."

State Rep. Jim Davis, D-Tampa, who is running for Congress, and Tampa City Council member Scott Paine, attended Saturday's protest, filling in neighbors on their efforts to attract another store to that location. Davis said he was trying to contact the property owner, as well as working with the county's commerce department to promote the location to another grocery store chain, such as Food Lion or U-Save.

In addition, the area may be eligible for Community Development Block Grant money, which would "put a little honey out to attract" renovation of the strip shopping center, Paine said.

Meanwhile, residents who want to continue shopping in their neighborhood must cross busy Nebraska Avenue to get to the Save 'N' Pack at 11612 N Nebraska. Once there, many would face problems with bagging their own groceries, as is the procedure at that chain.

"These people walk to the store," Connelly said. "I saw the looks on their faces. I had to do something."

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