St. Petersburg, Fla. (AP) – Delma’s, The Flower Booth has operated out of the same 3,752-square-foot shop in St. Petersburg’s Kenwood neighborhood since 1953.

Stephanie Anderson who took over the florist business started by her aunt Delma Nichols Booth – said they’ve served some of the same families for generations.

“If you do a really wonderful job for a bride on her wedding, that family will follow you through their kid’s birthdays, graduations, every special occasion,” she said.

But Anderson fears she’ll soon be forced to leave Kenwood and the loyal customer base her family worked so hard to build.

Over the summer her landlord sold the property to a developer who plans to demolish the building and put up townhomes. Anderson has until Sept. 30 to find a new storefront.

While little has changed at Delma’s through the years, the city around it has undergone a dramatic transformation. Since the shop opened, the population has exploded from 95,712 to 258,308, according to U.S. Census data.

Once hailed as “God’s waiting room,” St. Petersburg is now a popular destination for young professionals and empty nesters seeking a beachside community with a hip downtown.

But as the city and the rest of the Tampa Bay region have grown, small business owners like Anderson say it’s become more difficult to hold on to their current retail spaces and find new storefronts to set up shop. Some fear that rising rents and a lack of available properties could drive out the very businesses that make the region a place where people want to live.

“We take the gamble of driving foot traffic and breathing life into neighborhoods with our businesses,” said Roberto Torres, owner of the Blind Tiger Cafe, which has several locations across Tampa including in Ybor City, Westchase, Seminole Heights and Soho. “Then we get forced out by developers once the neighborhood we helped build is seen as desirable.”

The COVID-19 pandemic delayed Torres’ plans to open more coffee shops. Since then, he said the real estate landscape has changed, making it much more expensive for him to grow his business.

“With supply chain issues and rising construction costs, the finances no longer worked,” he said. “We had to go back and renegotiate everything.” According to a 2022 market report from real estate firm Colliers, asking rental rates for retail space in the Tampa Bay area increased 4.7% over last year and 14.4% over five years.

The vacancy rate for retail space in the region is around 5.8%. That’s down one percentage point from 2017.

Paula Clair Smith, a managing director of commercial services for Colliers said what’s happening here is not uncommon for a growing region.

“This is a matter of typical real estate cycles,” Smith said. “There’s not enough product and there’s so much demand.” In May, the beloved Central Avenue music venue, the Hideaway Cafe shuttered its doors. After 13 years the landlord there declined to renew owner John Kelly’s lease, according to Creative Loafing.

Kelly did not respond to requests for comment.

Now, plans are underway to build a mixed use development at the same location where the Hideaway Cafe once stood. Dallas-based Trammell Crow Residential wants to raze the entire 1700 block of Central Avenue and replace it with a 7-story, 267-unit apartment complex with retail on the street level, according to documents submitted to the city.

The block is home to seven small businesses. Four of them – Fraze Design, FRSTeam by Rogers, Hamm Signs, and Avid Brew Company – own their respective properties. The rest – Lolita’s Wine Market, Dirty Laundry and The Burg Bar & Grill – rent.