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Progress can be painful

Grand Central columnist Patty Ryan will return soon. In the meantime, City Times writer Susan Thurston offers her own take on life in South Tampa.

It came down with a thud.

Its owner John Sansone watched it from Panera Bread, across the street. It was sad, he says, but inevitable.

After 13 years selling cut roses and cheap bananas, the Hyde Park Farmer's Market vanished from Howard and Swann avenues. From the rubble will rise a medical building.

Progress hurts.

The produce stand marked the last of the mom-and-pop institutions to occupy the once quaint corner in the heart of South Tampa.

Burt's Hardware. Gone.

The Chatterbox bar. Gone.

Today, the area looks like Anytown USA.

Eckerd Drug on one corner. Blockbuster on another. A mini strip plaza on the third and, soon, an office complex.

Sansone doesn't object to the changes. After all, he sold the property eight years ago and had been renting the space on two-month leases.

He knew the end would come. McDonald's had called. So had Wendy's.

The medical building seemed the least objectionable.

Still, he regrets ever selling. Sure, his loyal customers will drive to his family's new shop at MacDill Avenue and Cypress Street, but the corner will never be the same.

Then again, it hasn't been in years.

As South Howard strives to become Tampa's premier dining district, many small neighborhood businesses have lost their grip. Rather than try to compete, some opt to sell and move on.

Gordon Davis has watched it happen. His Le Bordeaux French restaurant, now St. Bart's Island House, has been around for years.

He welcomed the addition of Eckerd's but hated to see the market go. Sterile medical offices belong on side streets, not at a neighborhood's landmark intersection.

Healthy people walk to corner stores. Sick people drive to doctor's appointments.

"It's a shame. It's such a great, important corner," Davis says. "But you can't stop the big development from coming in. There's very little space left . . . for large development."

For years, customers zipped in and out of the market for flowers and produce. You couldn't beat the 3-pounds-for-99-cents bananas, and a dozen roses for less than $10.

In the early days, Sansone says, the store drew a lot of business from Old Hyde Park Village down the street. After lunch or shopping at the Jacobson's, ladies would stop by flowers and fruit on their way home.

The Kash n' Karry on Swann didn't exist.

Over time, village traffic declined. New shopping centers sprouted around Tampa. Jacobson's closed.

Sansone survived off a loyal clientele who considered the store their neighborhood market for gardenias, grapefruit and anything fresh. (A housekeeper for a home on Bayshore Boulevard bought $300 worth of flowers a week.)

Sansone's last day was Halloween. People paid their respects as they paid for their pumpkins. The next day, he left. Confused customers pulled into the parking lot then sadly drove away.

Four days later, the market was gone, leveled.

It seemed so fast. So final.

Eyes accustomed to the country store with its earthy tones now see metal fences and crumbled concrete.

Soon, construction will start on the doctors' offices.

Sansone probably won't watch.