ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — A Whole Foods Grocery Store is set to open its first location in St. Petersburg on 38th Avenue North just off of 4th Street.
The store will open where Suncoast Fitness, Kahwa Coffee, Dollar General and a handful of other businesses currently are located. There are six other full-service grocery stores within a one-mile radius of the location.
The idea has some community leaders fired up and disappointed that another location in South St. Pete, which has been without a grocery store for years, continues to sit vacant, leaving residents in a food desert.
Teresa Thomas and her dog Choo Choo commute nearly every day through the Midtown Tangerine Plaza Shopping Center lot off 22nd Street South in South St. Petersburg. It’s the location where she used to be able to shop at her neighborhood grocery store.
“I miss it. I miss it a lot,” she said with a sigh.
Without transportation, she’s now forced to shop at gas stations and dollar stores, where there is no access to fresh produce, meat and other essential health food items.
“There’s no healthy food. I’m a diabetic. No access to health food or anything like that,” she explained.
Her only option is to take a bus to the Walmart Supercenter on 34th Street South, which she says she is wary of during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Her previous grocery store in Tangerine Plaza used to be a Sweetbay, then a Walmart Neighborhood Market. Now, it’s been vacant for four years, despite the city of St. Petersburg taking over ownership of the site.
“I’m disappointed that it’s been closed for four years. I think it’s time the city takes action on this,” Wendy Wesley, a dietician and nutritionist said.
Wesley got involved several years ago in writing articles about the food desert after seeing her patients’ health decline rapidly once the store closed its doors.
“I had patient after patient after patient who said I know how to eat to manage my diabetes, renal failure and cardiac disease, but the food just doesn’t exist in my community,” she explained.
At the Tangerine Plaza location, there isn’t a single full-service grocery store within a 42 square block radius. Many in the area don’t have reliable transportation.
Meanwhile, the new Whole Foods location on 38th Avenue North is surrounded by fresh food options. Six full-service grocery stores are within a one-mile radius including two Publix Stores, a Winn Dixie, a Trader Joe’s, a Fresh Market, a Whole Foods and Rollin’ Oats Market and Cafe.
Alan DeLisle in the City of St. Petersburg’s Development Administration office says the South St. Pete site has been challenging for attracting developers after two failed grocery store attempts, however, he believes they are on the right path. The city is now in talks with a developer to bring a smaller grocery store to the location and make it into a mixed-use project with affordable housing.
“I think we’re making some progress and we’re hopeful. We still have a ways to go, but we are having very good discussions and the developer is trying very hard,” he elaborated.
For Thomas and her health, she says it can’t happen soon enough.
“Let’s get a grocery store here. We need one badly,” she said with a sigh.
“I’m disappointed. I never expected when I first started writing about food insecurity and Tangerine Plaza two and a half years ago and really started looking into this issue, that here we would be March 2021 and this store would still be empty," Wesley said.
The city confirmed in June 2021 that they're still working with Sugar Hill, LLC to develop the plaza. Nothing is set in stone at this time.