What's next for empty Sweetbay stores across Tampa Bay? - WFLA News Channel 8

What's next for empty Sweetbay stores across Tampa Bay?

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ST PETERSBURG, FL (WFLA) -

If you're wondering what will take the place of the Sweetbay Supermarkets closing down this week, you're not alone. Economic development teams in cities and counties across Tampa Bay are already hard at work trying to fill those big box stores.

"Some will become grocery stores again; others may become fitness centers or other opportunities," said Chris Steinocher, the President and CEO of the St. Petersburg Area Chamber of Commerce. "Others may be reassigned completely and I think that's what you want in your economy is the opportunity to think like that and ask ‘what does each neighborhood need?'"

Last month Sweetbay announced it would close 33 of its 105 stores in Florida, which will impact about 2,000 employees. Customers started looking for deals at those locations where food went on sale for as much as 50 to 75 percent off. By Tuesday shelves in stores like the one in midtown St. Petersburg were looking empty. This one closed early at 6:00 on Tuesday and will close for good on Wednesday. Most of those impacted stores in the area will shut their doors by then too.

"It's odd in there," said customer Karhrman Ziegenbein. "It kind of looks like a little ghost town."

Steinocher said the good news is the amount of empty retail space in the Tampa Bay area is fairly low at this point. Empty retail space went from 9.8 percent vacancy to 8.8 percent in the third quarter last year, which is fairly low, according to Steinocher.

"It's been trending that people are looking for retail opportunities," he said. "A one percent drop is a pretty large number so it means some things are being absorbed; it means people are opening businesses again or taking space."

"If this would've happened two years ago - I would've said - we are in for a long hard fight. But with the confidence people have in our economy right now - there might be some brands out there saying: ‘We want Florida, we want Tampa Bay.'"

But Steinocher also believes Sweetbay is a well-run company and some of the major grocers will ask if Sweetbay didn't meet sales expectations in those areas – could they?

"Publix and Walmart ... have a pretty good solid hand," he said. "So for a new brand to come in here - they're going to have to do a lot of homework and they're going to have to test themselves, too. We owe it to our communities to say there's some opportunities out there and let's get going."

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