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Small businesses aren't hurt by Walmart's presence, but its departure

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To be sure, Walmart is the retailer left-wing politicians love to hate. However, in St. Petersburg, Florida, America’s most successful retailer is sorely missed.

When the Walmart that anchored a shopping center at Tyrone Boulevard and Park Street for 24 years vacated so the company could open a new improved store 2 miles away, it hurt surrounding businesses.

Of course the liberal line of attack over the years was built around the premise that Walmart doesn’t pay its employees enough money and that the giant Walmart shopping centers that offer everyday products to Americans for less hurts competing small businesses.

Ironically, in St. Petersburg, it is small businesses that are complaining about business being slow after Walmart left their shopping center on July 16, according to a St. Petersburg Times report published Friday.

Meanwhile, if business is slow because of Walmart’s departure at Tyrone Boulevard, it must be about to pick up at the new Walmart location across from the CW Bill Young VA medical Center at Bay Pines.

"It's slow. Normally we'd be busy this time of day for sure," said Lydvina Eckert, who works at the Subway sandwich shop in the shopping center Walmart used to anchor. The Subway is located at the opposite end of the shopping center from the now vacant Walmart facility. Eckert told the Times the shop also benefited Walmart employees who ate there.

Subway is not the only retailer feeling the pain now that Walmart is no longer in the building. "It's slowing down for sure," echoed Dana Gieder, manager of L.A. Tan. "It's still good because we have regulars. It's the new clientele that's slowed down."

Walmart company has not listed the 122,000 square-foot vacant building for sale, nor has it announced plans to put a scaled-down neighborhood Walmart’s in its place. The structure is reportedly a bit small to become a Sam’s Club facility without significant renovations.

Other businesses located at the old Walmart site include Plato's Closet, Scrubs n' Stuff, Maytag, Dollar Tree and Café Croissant.

"We really can't tell (the impact of losing Walmart) yet because it's summertime," said Nicole Bosc, who owns the Café Croissant with her husband. "Every summer it is very quiet around here until the tourists come."

While opponents of the box stores claim small businesses can’t compete with the big chains, others say they can’t compete without them.

For example, the recent closing of grocery chain Sweetbay stores in the area also hurt small businesses. Recently, the Sweetbay at Suncoast Plaza, at 34th Street and 22nd Avenue N. closed leaving a large empty space between Staples and Bealls Outlet. The stores all sell different products but have common customers; like Walmart, Sweetbay attracted the lion share of customers to the center, which benefited adjacent retailers.

Meanwhile, businesses just getting off the ground as main anchors like Walmart and Sweetbay are moving out, are trying to be upbeat about the situation. Thrift City owner Tim Chevalier who opened his 15,000-square-foot store in the Suncoast Plaza a month ago says, "Even with (the large vacancies) we've got great visibility right on 34th Street," he said.

Liberal politics notwithstanding, small businesses adjacent to Walmart’s stores are not complaining because of Walmart's presence; it’s the giant retailer's departure that hurts businesses.

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