Condominium dwellers get a gourmet deli

n The proprietor of the popular Snell Isle Market has opened an outlet of fancy fare downtown.

Published June 4, 2006

ST. PETERSBURG - The expensive condominiums being built downtown will eventually be filled with people, and those residents' tastes will change the retail environment, possibly in the direction of stores like Mickey Huguet's gourmet deli.

She opened Mickey's Kork and Kleaver in January and has been doing substantial business selling meats, baked goods, imported beers and cheese, wine and a little produce along with hot meals and takeout food. But that stands to reason because Huguet, owner of the popular Snell Isle Market, was asked to consider opening the store near the Florencia condos, which has many owners formerly from the northeast part of the city.

"We've been doing great," Huguet said. "A lot of people come in because of the other store."

Huguet said she was also asked to open a store near some of the other new developments looking to provide upscale services to their tenants. Her location, 80 Beach Drive NE, is on the ground floor of the Hampton Inn, which has no restaurant but puts microwaves and refrigerators in its rooms, so Huguet also gains some of that clientele.

Most downtown condo projects are a long way from habitable, but retailers are taking note of their price tags and positioning for their occupants. Huguet said she has a unique niche at the moment, but doesn't expect to be alone.

"We'll see some competition in the end," she said. She said other locations that courted her are still looking for similar operators.

Many early buyers of existing downtown condos are local, said Lee Allen, vice president of finance for JMC Communities, which built the Florencia and the Hampton and helped the latter recruit Huguet. But much of Florida's building boom of late has been focused on the expected wave of retiring baby boomers, who will bring their own shopping habits.

"There needs to be a variety of choices," Allen said. "There's still a need for a big-box department store downtown, too."

Inquiries are coming in from a variety of businesses, said John T. Long, president and CEO of the St. Petersburg Area Chamber of Commerce. He wouldn't name specific businesses but said that people who wouldn't have looked at the city before are now reconsidering.

"The overall growth in St. Petersburg has created attention," Long said. "People are beginning to see the potential of the people who are going to be living in the new towers."

Many of the new condo buildings also include retail space on the ground floor, Long said. The developers of those buildings are actively researching prospective tenants as well as the demographics of future residents.

Huguet said she's pleased to be in the vanguard of a retail shift. She said she has not changed her focus from the northeast and that Snell Isle Market will stay open and move into a new building near its present site as that area is redeveloped. But she said that business is different from Kork and Kleaver, which is focused on the gourmet sector.

Huguet's business has dropped off a bit of late as snowbirds have left town, she said, but she still serves plenty of lunches and caters to a regular audience in the evening. While the store doesn't have the full product line of the Snell Isle Market, both stores share butcher Wendy Sturgill, who does her deft cutting in front of curious patrons.

"It's a show," Huguet said, adding that customers often quiz Sturgill about how and why she carves the Angus beef the way she does.

Huguet said her location is still a bit unknown, but that, as is the case at Snell Isle, people will travel once they learn where to go. Soon there may be a larger market right in the immediate neighborhood.

"Things are looking up downtown," Allen said. "Slowly but surely."

Paul Swider can be reached at 892-2271 or pswider@sptimes.com or by participating in itsyourtimes.com.