ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. - The signs came down from the Sweetbay storefront in midtown St. Petersburg on Tuesday morning.
It was the final blow to a business that became the center of the discussion stirred up by the closing of nearly two dozen underperforming Sweetbay stores in Tampa Bay.
It was also once the pride of the neighborhood shopping plaza, a hope for new economic life into an area that has seen its share of trouble.
Linda Storey saw at least 70 of her former co-workers let go with little notice. She was lucky enough to get out before the announcement, but her friends weren't.
"The one's trying to get in at another Sweetbay. The other one doesn't know what she's going to do. No job. She has two kids to take care of," Storey said.
The store shuttered nearly a week earlier than originally planned. A huge clearance quickly emptied the shelves, and the store was packed with customers in search of a deal.
Seeing the mess, Storey was heartbroken.
"They're like 'oh gee look at this, look at that,' and I'm like 'you never shopped here before. In the 13 months I worked there, I never saw you. Why come now?' It's like beating a dead horse," she said.
Stores in the plaza can only hope that the now empty parking lot gets filled with another store bringing in business.
Jamekka Harris owns a beauty salon next to the former Sweetbay. She says those stores relied on the walk-in business the grocery store brought, but the closure took the wind out of the area's sails.
"Then the next thing you know, they said everybody lost their jobs. It was just sad, real sad. The air is sad," Harris said.
She said she's going to try to stick it out until a new store comes in.
When that might happen, no one knows.
ABC Action News called the city, which has pledged to work with Sweetbay to find a suitable replacement, but we were told it was out of their hands.
We talked to Larry Newsome, the landowner of the property, and he said although he's heard interest from companies who want to move into the now-empty building, it's just mostly hemming and hawing.
The rest of the stores will sit empty as well, waiting for new tenants.
"I'm going to try to stick it out, because I love my community. I'm just going to try," Jamekka Harris said.
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