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Sunday, Sep 24, 2017
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East Tampa residents talk about effects of Sweetbay closing

EAST TAMPA - Residents along the 50th Street corridor, near Interstate 4, are facing a dilemma: the loss of a grocery store that has been an important part of the community for more than 15 years. Sweetbay recently announced more than 30 underperforming grocery stores in Florida will close, probably by Feb. 13. One of those is the store at 5050 10th Ave. The supermarket, formerly a Kash n' Karry, has served residents in some of Tampa's oldest neighborhoods: Grant Park, Highland Pines, Florence Villa, Beasley and Oak Park. "It means a lot to me," said Betty Jean Callaway, a longtime Highland Pines resident. "It's so handy, especially for people who don't have a way to get around."
Callaway, 77, drove to Columbus Plaza on Tuesday to do her shopping. But not everyone has that luxury in an area where pockets of blight often are side-by-side with modest houses and clipped lawns. "I've seen them walk up, and some people ride bicycles with little buggies behind," she said. James Hollenbach, 61, lives within a block of the store and has been a customer for seven years. "I like the prices," he said. "I've known the managers and employees a long time." He worries about the loss of jobs. "There's more people in the unemployment line," he said. Sweetbay stores in recent days began offering 25 percent discounts. "We're two weeks into the process," said spokeswoman Nicole LeBeau. "Inventory is pretty depleted. We're well under way." Residents hear rumors that Publix or Walmart might be looking at the site, but no one knows for certain. Brandon resident Cicorra Cervantes, 25, made a trip to the 10th Avenue store to take advantage of reduced prices. She stocked up on beauty supplies, sauces and nonperishable food items. Store officials also gave her a promotional Super Bowl poster that will wind up in her game room. Columbus Plaza sits on a stretch of 50th Street with fast-food restaurants, a Save-a-Lot and industrial businesses. The on-and-off ramps at I-4 bustle with cars and trucks navigating a widened roadway. Bank of America and Sweetbay are touted on the plaza's sign. One panel on the sign advertises "space available." Empty storefronts abound, and the parking lot on Tuesday was more than half empty. Some locally owned shops fill in a few spaces at the plaza: Far East Chinese Take Out, Family Dollar, Star Beauty Supply. A church once occupied a small storefront. A spirited game of dominoes was played out on a table inside Cleve's HairFx. Barber Eric Fullwood, 42, clipped a customer's hair. Sweetbay, he said, always has been a convenient place for shop employees to grab a quick soda or buy lunch. And residents who shop at Sweetbay sometimes stop by for a haircut, he said. "We do need a good grocery store here," he said. "Family Dollar has prices they (residents) can afford. But Dollar doesn't have meat and rice and beans."

ksteele@tampatrib.com (813) 259-7652
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