Walmart in Seminole Heights? Doesn't matter much to some local businesses

03/14/13 Janelle Irwin
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Documents have surfaced that suggest Walmart might open a store in Tampa’s Seminole Heights neighborhood. But some locally owned businesses in the area aren’t sweating it. The big-box giant is feared in some communities for its propensity to put the little guys out of business. But Kendra Bailey, owner of Health Mutt on Central Avenue, said they can survive because they offer things Walmart doesn’t.

“What we do is we have a niche product. I know that Cleanse also has a Niche product. You’ve got to focus on the items and the services that are going to set you apart. We do a lot of nail trimming, we have dog washing, we have low cost vaccines, we have teeth cleaning. All of those things aren’t going to compete to that Purina dog food. We also make sure to have quality ingredients – quality over cost honestly. People usually prefer to pay a few more dollars for a quality product where their dog’s not having to go into the vet.”

It doesn’t hurt that her shop is a mile and a half away and on the other side of I-275. That’s a long way in this neighborhood. On the other hand, Yes Nails is right across Hillsborough Avenue from the proposed Walmart, west of 22nd Street. Rose Pinckney works there and said Walmart might reduce her shop’s walk-in traffic.

“But as far the normal clients, the regular clients, I don’t think so because a lot of our regular clients have been coming here for years and I don’t think Walmart across the street will stop them from coming in and getting their nails done because [we] do awesome designs and I know Walmart can’t compete.”

The proposed Walmart site is a vacant former auto dealership. A Walmart spokesperson didn’t return phone calls, but Ali Glissen, a spokesperson for the City of Tampa, said she spoke with the company.

“When contacted by the City of Tampa, Walmart acknowledged that they’re still very interested in the referenced site, however they said that they are in the early process of site investigation and have not finalized the transaction. As part of their due diligence they did apply for a driveway access to local street waiver and it was approved.”

Glissen’s information also checks out with Hillsborough County property records which show Abraham Chevrolet is still the property’s current owner. Several local business owners in the area said they thought the business that would be hit the hardest by a Walmart opening would be the Publix on Nebraska Avenue. But Shannon Patten, a spokesperson for the grocery chain, said they actually welcome the competition.

“We are always aspects like promotions, product mix and store environment in an effort to provide our customers with the best overall shopping experience and these days people can get grocery items at many different places, but we have a very loyal customer base and they really appreciate the environment and the services that we offer them every single day.”

There are some residents in the neighborhood who don’t like the idea of a big box store infiltrating their neighborhood. The Old Seminole Heights Neighborhood Association issued a notice to residents about it and conversations have popped up on the association’s Facebook page. Michelle Baker is the co-owner of The Refinery restaurant and Bar on Florida Avenue. She said she doesn’t have a problem with big chain stores as long as they treat their employees right -- and Walmart doesn’t fit that bill.

“Myself and my husband as well as – that we know of – our staff choose not to support Walmart simply because of their employee practices as well as their product placement. They don’t stand for what the Refinery stands for. We’re all about supporting our local growers, producers – not to say that that’s what we can do 100% of the time…but we do make sure that everybody we buy from has the same – that they follow the same ethics that we have – treat your staff right.”

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