Convenience store binds community

The building is small, the parking lot only dimly lit and no neon sign indicating whether it is open or closed. But Bull Market has become a fixture in this area, a rare common experience for all college students and the families who live along 42nd Street.

It’s a stop-and-go place and there is a constant stream of people walking in, grabbing what they need and walking out. There are regular customers and transient types coming in as a last resort, as well as people using the parking lot as a meet-up spot for carpools or cab rides. And while there isn’t much tying these people together aside from the street they live on, Bull Market gives the neighborhood on 42nd Street a shared space where they can finally feel like neighbors.

Inside there are only five aisles, but it has almost every amenity needed: snack foods, cleaning supplies, toiletries and limited grocery items. Nazia Hirani is a sophomore, a USF transfer student from Georgia, and she likes how close the store is.

“I’m not familiar with the area, so the less I have to get lost, the better.”

The owner, Sasi Achkouti, says that the main draw for the college students in the surrounding apartments is the beer.

“It’s not too expensive, and it’s right here,” he said. “That’s a lot of our money.” Achkouti emphasized that a great deal of business comes from students in the area because it’s the closest place.

Students aren’t the only ones who drop in because of convenience. Vanessa Lopes and her family have lived in their apartment at Cambridge Woods for five years. A stay-at-home mom with two young daughters, she said she often stops in after school.

“It’s right next to where the bus drops her off,” she said, pointing to her 7-year-old daughter Crystal, hands pressed against the glass of the ice cream freezer. “The walk home gets hot, so sometimes we stop in for something to keep cool.”

The conversation flows freely in this space, and whatever differences exist between the patrons dissipate as they joke about what they’re purchasing or, more commonly, commiserating about the pricing.

Brian Marques has been working as a cashier at Bull Market for only three weeks, but he said that in such a short time, he’s had to think up comebacks for every jab about the inflated prices.

“I could probably join an improv group at this point,” he joked. “You have to think on your feet with these people, they’re brutal.”

It’s a different crowd on the weekends, especially at night. People come in between parties to get snacks or more drinks, eyes red and steps staggering.

“It’s a great people-watching spot,” said recent USF graduate Briana Turner. “It’s interesting to see what brings people in at 1 a.m.”