Market, sweet market
Midtown is about to welcome Sweetbay, playing to its audience with blue crab, whole catfish, greens galore and jerk seasoning.
By SHARON L. BOND
Published October 30, 2005
ST. PETERSBURG - Midtown residents soon will have a chain grocery in their neighborhood, a long-sought necessity. The opening of Sweetbay Supermarket on Saturday is a big deal. So, exactly what do the residents get?
The attractive store at 18th Avenue S and 22nd Street means convenience, easier access for residents who depend on public transportation, jobs for nearly 80 area residents and a wider variety of grocery choices than those available in smaller, often more expensive markets.
Sweetbay will offer takeout food from the deli and Ecce Panis bread from the bakery. A large stock of frozen foods will have its own section, the On the Go Bistro.
"Frozen is big," said Tony Brown, store manager.
He and other officials surveyed Midtown residents, most of whom are African-Americans, to find out what they wanted. One request was for a blue crab tank.
"We will be the only one with blue crab," said Nicole LeBeau, a Sweetbay spokeswoman. The seafood section also will carry whole catfish and whole perch, two other requests.
Brown, who is African-American, moved rapidly through the store last week, stopping in different departments to check activity and pointing out specialties. The parking lot was filled with workers' vehicles, and landscaping was being installed.
Of the 125 associates hired for the new store, 78 are from Midtown, LeBeau said.
A delivery of frozen foods arrived, and workers were busy stocking. Others were cleaning and stocking shelves. The perishables won't come until the end of the week.
Steve Williams, director of produce, said shoppers will find 600 varieties of fresh fruit and vegetables. Supplies of collard greens, mustard greens and turnips will be larger than at other Sweetbay stores.
"We will have big cans, No. 10 cans of beans and fruits," said Brown, naming another request. "That is not a normal item we would carry."
Personal hair care products will include braids and extensions, rather than just hair clips and barrettes, LeBeau said. Milani Cosmetics, makeup for women of color, will be stocked, Brown said.
An international aisle caters to other ethnicities, stocking kosher, Hispanic, Asian, Bosnian and Mexican foods. Brown said he was aware of a large Jamaican contingent in the area, so there are plenty of products fixed with jerk spices as well as the spices themselves.
The store also has a full-service pharmacy.
Sweetbay is the reincarnation of Kash n' Karry. Its one example in the Tampa Bay area is in Seminole, and seems to be pleasing both customers and company officials.
"It is only the second one in the Tampa Bay area," LeBeau said of the Midtown Sweetbay. A third opens in Tampa on Saturday also.
Midtown is a 5.5-square-mile area that sits mostly below Central Avenue. Many of its residents are in the low-income range. City officials targeted the area for improvement after racial disturbances there in 1996. Residents were asked what they wanted, and they put a chain grocery store at the top of their list. They also wanted a post office, which opened this month, and a bank, which should be in operation next year.
The Midtown Sweetbay occupies a new shopping center called Tangerine Plaza. It is a 38,000-square-foot store, smaller than many grocery stores but larger than the Publix that opened recently at University Village downtown. Sweetbay will have a liquor store next door to the grocery.
One of the seven remaining shops in Tangerine Plaza will serve as a community resource center, said Larry Newsome, head of Urban Development Solutions of St. Petersburg, the company building the plaza.
Tenants already signed for the other six spaces include a cell phone company and a Chinese restaurant. Probable tenants include a music store and a restaurant that serves American food, Newsome said.
The Midtown Sweetbay will be open daily from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m., LeBeau said.