Soon the Publix, Eckerd and several smaller stores under way will open their doors to the burgeoning downtown population.
By SHARON L. BOND
Published September 7, 2003
[Times photos: Lara Cerri]
From the in-progress Eckered store's entrance, the nearly completed Publix supermarket can be seen rising at Third Street and Second Avenue S to serve the growing downtown St. Petersburg population.
Worker Gregory Manzueta gets ready to hang drywall at the Eckerd drugstore under construction in downtown St. Petersburg.
University Village, which will include a Publix and nine other retailers, is scheduled to open the second week in November. It is 100 percent leased, according to the Sembler Co., which is developing the site.
ST. PETERSBURG - The area surrounding Joe Pugliano's business is a construction zone complete with noise, large equipment and mud. He sees dollar signs.
Pugliano owns the UPS Store, formerly Mail Boxes Etc., at 200 Second Ave. S. It sits on the northeast corner of the area where University Village is being built. Soon a Publix grocery and a group of small shops will be his immediate neighbors. A new Eckerd drugstore will be nearby.
"It's a little muddy, but I am eagerly awaiting (completion) of construction. I think it is going to be phenomenal."
Pugliano said he expects residents of Snell Isle and the old Northeast neighborhoods who now shop at the Publix on 38th Avenue N to come to the new one downtown. He also expects shoppers from the 34th Street S Publix to come to the new one.
"I'm looking for my business to double in volume from Publix," Pugliano said.
University Village, being built on the old Dew Cadillac site between Second and Third streets S and Second and Fourth avenues, is scheduled to open the second week in November. It is 100 percent leased, according to the Sembler Co., which is developing the site.
University Village consists of the Publix and nine other retailers: Hollywood Video, Village Opticians, General Nutrition Center, American Spirits, Great Clips for Hair, East Bay Cleaners, Subway sandwich shop, China Kitchen and NY Nail. Eight of the retailers will be in a strip of shops just south of the UPS Store. Hollywood Video will be next door to Publix.
On the next block, a free-standing Eckerd is scheduled to open at 301 Third St. S on Nov. 20, according to Tami Alderman, manager of community relations for the drugstore chain based in Largo. A grand opening is scheduled for Nov. 30.
It is quite an infusion of retailers meeting everyday needs for downtown. It also is a reflection of the renaissance of the heart of St. Petersburg where a number of condominium towers, townhouses and apartments have been built in the past five years.
"The growth of condominium units, townhomes and renovated single-family homes in the trade area helped lead to these retailers' decisions to locate downtown," said Craig Sher, president and chief executive officer of the Sembler Co., in a recent e-mail.
"We are hopeful that these residents combined with the presence of the nearby expanding hospitals and the University of South Florida, as well as other downtown businesses will make this project successful," Sher said.
Pugliano lives in the Mirror Lake condominiums, also downtown.
"I love living and working downtown. Once Publix and Eckerd are here, I won't have to leave downtown."
Sembler puts the number of downtown workers at 25,000, many of whom also will use the new retailers.
A downtown chain grocery has been a long-sought amenity. The Publix will be one of the Lakeland-based grocery chain's smaller stores. It will have 28,000 square feet of space but carry the same variety as the larger stores.
To give the store an urban look on the exterior, arbors with attached trellises are being built on Third Street S and Second Avenue. The Third Street S one will have benches, said David E. Murphy, vice president at Sembler.
Eckerd will have a drive-through window. Inside will be one of its one-hour photo labs. The store also will have a food mart that will carry milk, breads, juices, sodas and the like, Alderman said. Two to three pharmacists will be on staff.
One of downtown's new residential complexes is the Madison, 277 luxury apartments recently completed. It is evidence of how new downtown residents are important to retailers.
Pugliano said the Madison had been phenomenal for his business, which has been at its present location for five years. In April it changed to the UPS Store to reflect the purchase of the Mail Boxes Etc. chain by UPS two years ago.
The store's awning does not yet show the change but should soon, Pugliano said.
UPS' goal with the purchase of the Mail Boxes Etc. chain is to compete with the U.S. Postal Service in its priority mail area.
- Staff writer Matthew Waite contributed to this report.