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Openings of two new markets shelved

Two stores were promised, but none have opened. The weak economy gets the blame.

By SUSAN THURSTON, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published February 14, 2003

Last year, South Tampa shoppers stood to gain two specialty grocery stores stocked with prime meats, imported cheeses and just-picked produce.

Gaetano's Market leased space in the Town Square shopping center at Kennedy and West Shore boulevards. The Gourmet Market staked out the former site of Giancola's and Simon's in the Palma Ceia Village on MacDill Avenue.

Both promised to open this month.

Instead, both deals soured like old milk.

"I think it's a sign of the economy," said Tom Lamb, who planned to open Gaetano's with Anthony, Carlo, Cordoves and Enrique Castillo.

Lamb said key investors pulled out of the Beach Park project for financial reasons. He continues to pay rent, however, in the hopes new backers emerge.

At the Palma Ceia Village, managers said the Gourmet Market didn't work out but declined to elaborate. The parties signed a lease in December.

The retail about-face comes as a disappointment to shoppers seeking to fill the void left when Giancola's closed in May after nearly 20 years in South Tampa. Old Hyde Park Village has tried for months to attract a specialty grocery but hasn't found a taker.

Teri Scott, manager of the Buy Best Beauty Outlet next to Giancola's, said she looked forward to the new market and was surprised when another "For Rent" sign went up in the window.

"I heard sawing and hammering and people coming and going, and then all of a sudden nothing," she said.

Scott said she was told it would take more money than expected to get the space ready for a new store. She figured that the market didn't want to make the investment.

Shannon Henderson, who manages Palma Ceia Village, said there are still hopes of luring another small grocery to the 19,500-square-foot space.

Plaza owner Albert Docobo said Tuesday through a representative he had no comment on the other deal's demise but would make an announcement when he found a new tenant. Larry Pasetti, Docobo's business partner who planned run the market, did not return phone calls.

The store was originally scheduled to open in time for the Christmas rush. Then the opening was pushed back to mid-February. Pasetti envisioned more than 15,000 specialty items, from Jamaican jams to Russian caviar, and a variety of wine and imported beer.

To the west, Gaetano's planned similar fare, with an emphasis on Italian imported items and home-cooked take-out entrees. Co-owner Lamb compared their venture to the famed Balducci's in New York.

Gaetano's initially planned a September opening, which fell by the wayside. Lamb said as recently as January the store would open this month, but this week he said the deal unraveled around the holidays.

Gaetano's signed a 10-year lease on the 5,200-square-foot space with an option to get out earlier with penalties, Lamb said. They had ordered supplies and equipment but had not started remodeling.

Lamb said he planned to continue paying rent for as long as possible in the event he finds other backers.

"I'm keeping the hope alive," said Lamb, a custom home builder. "We've gotten so much positive feedback."

Shopping center officials said they still hope Gaetano's works out. Cary Anderson, senior leasing agent for plaza owner Regency Centers, said he hasn't started looking for other tenants.

"It's a great location for that concept," he said. "I would hope (Lamb) would be able to find those investors and open the store."

Lee Schwartz, whose father started the store that eventually became Giancola's, said he considered the spot to open his own gourmet market but ruled it out because he wanted more space. He expected the uncertain economy -- and not the South Tampa clientele -- scared away investors.

"If they opened and they did a really, really good job, they would flourish," he said. "There is a great demand for top-quality meat, top-quality produce and the kind of products you can't get at a chain grocery store."

- Times researcher John Martin contributed to this report. Susan Thurston can be reached at 226-3394 or .

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