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Big Box Stores Mark Growth In Tallahassee, What It Means For Mom And Pop Shops

Sascha Cordner

A slew of big-name retail chains are slated to soon open in Tallahassee. Some have already opened their doors, and Bass Pro Shops is having its Grand Opening Wednesday afternoon with Governor Rick Scott in attendance. But, with Big Box stores making the move to the Capital city, what does that means for the smaller retail stores and local vendors that have made a home and built a following in the community?

Bass Pro Shops Opens Its Doors

In mid-July, construction for the outdoor retailer is in full-swing. Construction sounds can be heard as Jeff Shaw, the new manager of Tallahassee's Bass Pro Shops, gives a tour of the not-fully developed store.

"Obviously, this is the entrance when we come in. There’s still a lot of decorating that still needs to go into it. But, these are all hand-painted murals,” said Shaw.

Shaw also shows points out walls covered in murals that are of exact replicas of environmental scenes all from across Florida as well as lifelike taxidermy of animals native to the Sunshine State.

“So, everything you see is kind of like a museum of sort of the artifacts/the real piece of old Florida. When you see the Spanish moss, the pines, and the palmettos, that’s just what you’d see if you were here 200 years ago in Florida, that’s just what it would look like,” he added.

An avid outdoorsman himself, Shaw says Bass Pro Shops is a unique retailer for people who love what he calls the “outdoor lifestyle,” and adds, that’s what makes Tallahassee the perfect location.

“There’s a lot of outdoor enthusiasts. We’re in a great area for the hunting, the fishing…So, that color of that one fishing lure that you can’t seem to find anywhere, yeah, I can bet money you’ll find it here.”

Whole Foods Works With Local Vendors

Bass Pro Shops is not the only store that’s recently announced plans for a storefront in Tallahassee. Designer Shoe Warehouse moved in last year. Dick’s Sporting Goods just opened its doors. And, Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s are still to come.  Mayor John Marks says while he’s excited about all the new stores coming to the capital city, he has one worry.

“You know, that’s always like a mixed blessing. I think, for the most part, it’s great. But, if there is a concern, it would be whether or not they detract from our local businesses.”

But one group of local business leaders, led by Tallahassee Chamber of Commerce’s Winston Howell, says they may have found a way to get around that.

“This is a unique opportunity for us. We have pushed very hard for shop local, shop small. We have very great aspirations for your own success, because if you win, our community wins.”

Howell is gearing up a crowd of local shop owners and farmers who just months ago participated in a local supplier fair put on by Whole Foods in collaboration with the Chamber. Ahead of Whole Foods’ fall opening, the fair allowed store reps to sample products they may want to see on Tallahassee store shelves—something many small business owners say they never had the opportunity to do.

“We’re in EarthFare and at New Leaf,” said Mary Lou Wesselhoeft of Ocheesee Creamery.

“I sell my candy at New Leaf Market, and at my shop, which is on All Saints Street, next to the Fermentation Lounge,” said Wes Raley, owner of Raley's Confectionary.

“New Leaf, and we also have the Farmer’s Market at Lake Ella,” said Yoche Artzi, co-owner of Pita Queen.

Florida Whole Foods Spokesman Russ Benblatt says he believes some local suppliers could gain a foothold on the national stage thanks to their exposure at the Tallahassee store.

“We do look for the ones that have a following, but we also look for those soon-to-be stars…those rising stars of the local food scene that we can give a start to,” he said.

Mary Lou Wesselhoeft runs Ocheesee Creamery, which makes and bottles all-natural milk at a dairy farm in the Tallahassee area. She’d like her business to see that sort of jump in prominence.

“It would increase our sales. And, it would give us more coverage here in the state. And it would be a big honor to be able to be in there.”

Wes Raley, who owns a young-start up candy shop called Raley’s Confectionary, also agrees. He and his wife make handmade candies with pictures inside using organic sugars and all natural colors and flavors.

“I’ve owned my own business for about two months. We hope to get our products on the Whole Foods shelf. That would be a huge amount of growth for us since we’re a pretty young company.”

Tomato Land and The Big Natural Foods Retailer

But then there are smaller, similar stores, like Tomato Land.   It’s a family-owned business that’s been around for about 50 years that sells local produce and it’s right down the street from Whole Foods.

For residents like Michelle Miller and Diane Reagans, they say even with Whole Foods close by, they would shop at both, and definitely stay loyal to Tomato Land.

"Absolutely, locally owned, fresh ingredients, never had a bad meal here,” Miller says.

“Friendly people, get you in and out quickly, even though the parking is not very good. It’s okay. We come here and sometimes wade through the mud puddles sometimes to eat lunch. It’s really good,” added Reagans.

And, Tomato Land co-owner Butch Reagan says he too believes in his store, and anticipates he’ll take a hit when Whole Foods opens.  The question is: for how long…

“I’ve got a lot of loyal customers that I believe will stay with me. What I really anticipate is business will go down maybe for a month or two. But, I think it will rebound. I think I will survive. You know I’ll be cheaper. I make it my business to be cheaper. A lot of people want to save money and eat well. And, they can do that here.”

But, Reagan acknowledges he, like many of his customers, will also shop at the big natural foods retailer which will soon be his neighbor.

For more news updates, follow Sascha Cordner on twitter @SaschaCordner.

Sascha Cordner has more than ten years of public radio experience. It includes working at NPR member station WUFT-FM in Gainesville for several years. She's worked in both radio and TV, serving in various capacities as a reporter, producer and anchor. She's also a graduate of the University of Florida with a bachelor's degree in telecommunications. She is the recipient of 15 awards from the Associated Press, Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ), and Edward R. Murrow. Her award-winning stories include her coverage on the infamous “Dozier School for Boys” and a feature titled "Male Breast Cancer: Lost in the Sea of Pink." Currently, Sascha serves as the host and producer of local and state news content for the afternoon news program "All Things Considered" at WFSU. Sascha primarily covers criminal justice and social services issues. When she's not reporting, Sascha likes catching up on her favorite TV shows, singing and reading. Follow Sascha Cordner on Twitter:@SaschaCordner.