The closure of the Walmart Neighborhood Market in St. Petersburg's Midtown is a disappointing setback for poor, predominantly black neighborhoods that have struggled for decades. The city, which owns the plaza that houses the Walmart, now must find a new tenant — both to protect taxpayers' investment and secure a new grocery store for this underserved area.
Walmart moved in to the space in 2014, replacing Sweetbay Supermarket which pulled out in 2013 when 30 of its stores closed nationwide. Last year a nearby Walgreens closed. When Walmart closes its doors for good March 3, Midtown will have no major grocery store within a convenient distance for the neighborhood's many residents without a car. One woman said the next closest Walmart on 34th Street S is at least 25 minutes away by bus or 45 minutes on foot. For elderly or disabled residents and parents with small children, that's a major obstacle to obtaining basic necessities.
The city has a key role in rectifying that situation. As landlord of Tangerine Plaza, bought for $2.2 million six months ago, it needs to lure a new anchor to limit its losses. It probably will take some creative financing. But smaller grocery chains have carved a niche in Florida opening stores in neglected areas like Midtown that sell private-label groceries at a discount.
Mayor Rick Kriseman recently cited an 8 percent drop in the city's African-American poverty rate in the last year, which is truly encouraging. But a statistical improvement does not change the fact that too many Midtown residents are too far from basic necessities like food and medicine.