It’s not easy to get a national grocery chain like Trader Joe’s to come to Tarpon Springs, commercial real estate agent Stephanie Addis said.
National brands consider a variety of factors before opening a new store — from location to accessibility, demographics and other details that could affect the company’s ability to turn a profit there. Addis has talked with a Trader Joe’s broker about opening a store in Tarpon Springs’ Manatee Village, she said, but those conversations haven’t gotten very far.
“With it being located on Alt. U.S. 19, it’s a little bit challenging,” Addis told the Tampa Bay Times. “Most national tenants prefer to be on the actual U.S. 19 (highway).”
Addis realized she had to be creative to get the grocer’s attention — so she launched a petition.
“Part of this was to help get this on Trader Joe’s radar,” she said. “But I’m just trying to demonstrate the residents are wanting a Trader Joe’s.”
Trader Joe’s spokesperson Nakia Rohde said in an email that the grocer will announce new locations on its website. Their next store in Florida is coming to Miami.
“Unfortunately, we do not currently have Tampa Bay on this list. We are happy to hear that we are wanted,” Rohde said.
The petition was launched Jan. 19 and has about 640 signatures as of Friday. Addis, the director of Tampa Bay retail for commercial real estate firm Colliers International, represents the owners of Manatee Village and helps lease the available space in the plaza to retailers. Even though there are other prospects for the site, Addis said she wants to prioritize what the people of Tarpon Springs want.
A public online forum asked residents what amenities and businesses they would like to see for the redevelopment of Manatee Village. The strip center used to have a Winn-Dixie. But the plaza former owners filed for bankruptcy protection.
Ash Properties, based in Jacksonville, bought Manatee Village in 2020 and plans to finish renovations this summer.
The new owners are investing in the plaza, located along Alt. U.S. 19 between Meres Boulevard and E Morgan Street, after if fell into disrepair, Addis said. Some residents proposed filling the space with an Aldi’s, Target, Whole Foods, Sprouts or to avoid big brands altogether and go with a local option. But overwhelmingly, people asked for Trader Joe’s.
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There isn’t even a distinct runner-up option, said city commissioner and mayoral candidate Costa Vatikiotis.
One commenter from the forum said they email Trader Joe’s monthly to come to the Greek city, famous as the sponge capital of the world. “We can have our own grocery bag design with Tarpon spongers,” their post read.
Resident Maria Meola said she would love to have a Trader Joe’s close by. She shops at two to three different grocery stores each week — between Publix, Aldi and Walmart — to find better meat, specialty items or cheaper prices. Trader Joe’s offers the right in-between, she said.
“Not only do they have the specialty items, but they were at better prices than the other three stores,” Meola said.
When asked about where a Trader Joe’s should go, mayoral candidates Vatikiotis and Robin Saenger said it doesn’t really matter, as long as people get one.
Alt. U.S. 19 would be the better option because residents are reluctant about unpredictable traffic on highway U.S. 19, Vatikiotis said. Some residents at a City Council meeting in April voiced concerns about making traffic on Alt. U.S. 19 worse.
But is Tarpon Springs even on Trader Joe’s radar?
It’s been a while since Trader Joe’s opened a store in Tampa Bay. The first opened in Tampa in 2014. St. Petersburg’s debuted in 2015. Tarpon Springs is much smaller than those urban areas with 25,000 residents as of 2020.
Addis said she knows Tarpon Springs isn’t large enough to attract a specialty grocer like Trader Joe’s on its own, but the California-based supermarket chain has a cultlike following that can pull in residents from nearby Clearwater, East Lake, Oldsmar and Dunedin.
Locals are already traveling 45 minutes or more to Tampa and St. Petersburg to buy groceries from Trader Joe’s, Vatikiotis said, so why wouldn’t people be willing to drive to Tarpon Springs?
“Residents are very well educated as far as what it’s going to take,” Vatikiotis said. “They recognize that it’s a matter of marketing and demographics, so we’re always hopeful.”