The Sweetbay Supermarket in Midtown is just one of 20 area grocery stores, including nine in Pinellas County, the grocery chain plans to close by the end of February.
But state, county and city officials have banded together to try and save this store, which they singled out as too important to the revitalization of this low-income community to be allowed to close.
Standing outside the store on 22nd Street South on Monday morning, officials including state Rep. Daryl Rouson, Pinellas County Commission Chairman Kenneth Welch, local NAACP leaders and St. Petersburg Mayor Bill Foster called on Sweetbay to reconsider closing the store.
"This is more than four walls and a roof," said Rouson, who lobbied for investment in the neighborhood while head of the local NAACP chapter. "We cannot let this building go dark."
But the group had few concrete proposals for how to convince Sweetbay's parent company, the Belgium-based Delhaize Group, to keep open a store it classifies as underperforming.
Sweetbay plans to close 33 stores in Florida, leaving roughly 2,000 workers without jobs. The Midtown store's closing will put 73 people out of work. The store is scheduled to close Feb. 13 but could close sooner, because workers are no longer restocking shelves, the mayor said.
Sweetbay spokeswoman Nicole LeBeau said company officials spoke to Foster on Thursday night after the closures were announced but that she is not aware of any further dialogue.
There is no mystery about why the Midtown store is closing, she said.
"The store is not meeting its sales expectations," she said.
Foster wants Sweetbay to begin talks with the city. Failing that, he said he will talk to other grocery stores.
"We will have a grocery store here," said Foster, who was on City Council when the store was built. "If not Sweetbay, it will be another store."
When the Sweetbay opened in 2005, it was the first grocery to ever come to this low-income, predominantly black part of St. Petersburg.
Businesses had been wary of relocating to the area but city officials worked hard to lure the supermarket here after complaints surfaced following two race riots in 1996. One was that the neighborhood didn't have its own grocery.
The Sweetbay served as an anchor for the Tangerine Plaza shopping center
To help close the deal, St. Petersburg contributed $1.35 million for the project, one of more than two dozen private and public projects completed in the neighborhood in the past 25 years — representing a total investment of more than $200 million.
Shoppers at Sweetbay on Monday said their nearest alternative is Walmart on 34th Street North, about two miles away.
Residents without cars face a long walk or would be forced to pay higher prices at local convenience stores, said Lisa Wheeler-Brown.
"It's another disappointment in Midtown," she said.
Richard Dawkins, 62, travels to the store every other day on his scooter, which he has used to get around since having dialysis treatment. He said it would be much tougher to reach another store unless he can get a ride from a family member.
"They're treating us like garbage," he said. "We should fight them."