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Thorntons going up in Pinellas County
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Photo courtesy of THORTONS
The new Thorntons gas and convenience store is at 1698 Gulf to Bay Blvd. in Clearwater.
Construction is under way at the new Thorntons at 8875 Ulmerton Road in Largo. The location will open on Dec. 30.
Pinellas County residents will be seeing more red-bordered buildings as the Midwestern gas and convenience chain, Thorntons, moves into Tampa Bay.

The first store in the region opened at 1698 Gulf to Bay Blvd. in Clearwater on Dec. 3. The second will open in Largo on Dec. 30, at 8875 Ulmerton Road.

Thorntons operates 166 convenience stores and gas stations in five states: Kentucky, Tennessee, Indiana, Ohio and Illinois. The move into Florida is the first expansion out of those states, and it is a long way from their home territory. Why?

“That’s always the number one question,” said Erin Jones, a spokeswoman for the company. “For the amount of locations we intend to open up in Florida, specifically Tampa Bay had the most property available to expand.”

Jones said the company plans to open at least 15 stores in the region in the next two to three years.

“It isn’t just the locations, but the improving economy and the fact that it is a growing community is what makes Tampa Bay attractive,” said Jones.

Bob Clifford, the president and CEO of the Clearwater Regional Chamber of Commerce said the Thorntons opening should buoy business in his city.

“This is their first location in Florida, so from Clearwater’s standpoint, it is extremely important,” he said. “Their research obviously speaks volumes about the confidence they have in Clearwater.”

Clifford also liked the idea that up to 20 new jobs will be created at the outlet.

“New employment is always good. Businesses of that nature traditionally employ all types of people – college kids and people looking for part-time work. So it will be good.”

The idea that Thorntons contacted the chamber when it planned to do business in Clearwater also pleased Clifford.

“They have been a great partner so far. We’ve been working with them for a number of months, and we’ve been able to help them find their way around our community,” he said.

In Largo, Tom Morrisette, the president and CEO of the Central Pinellas Chamber of Commerce, echoed similar sentiments.

“They came in and wanted to meet with the chamber right away. They let us know they wanted to be vested in the community and that is always a good thing,” he said.

The Largo location, nearly completed, is at the corner of Ulmerton and Starkey roads, the former site of a gentlemen’s club. Morrisette made it clear he was glad to see the empty strip joint out of there.

“That corner was blighted for so long. It is good to see something going on,” he said. “That is a gateway intersection in our community, so we can use the redevelopment of that corner.”

But does the community need another gas station? Morrisette said the addition would be good, because it will provide more competition.

“They told me it is their policy to always be a penny cheaper than other companies,” he said. “Obviously that helps consumers, and it increases competition to keep prices down. If that is their business model, then it is a good thing.”

Thorntons was founded in 1971 in Clarksville, Ind., and over time has morphed into its current operation of 166 gasoline and convenience stores, car washes and travel plazas. It is a privately, family owned company, but employees all have a stake in the company. Matt Thornton, son of the founder James Thornton, runs the company. Headquarters are in Louisville, Ky.

Jones said the company’s adaptability sets Thorntons apart.

“Each store can stock things that might be important to their region or neighborhood,” she said. “Corporate office doesn’t dictate against a particular product that is popular in one place but not in another.”

Already work has begun on a third Tampa Bay location at Gunn Highway and Linebaugh Avenue in Tampa. And just as it is in Pinellas, residents on the Hillsborough side of the bay can expect to see plenty of red at the intersections in the years ahead.
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