As Spring Hill crumbles, bears move into shuttered Sweetbay grocery store

In this photo provided by animal control, a brown bear is seen haunting a dairy aisle in the shuttered Sweetbay at Four Corners.

In this photo provided by animal control, a brown bear is seen haunting a dairy aisle in the shuttered Sweetbay at Four Corners.

By Frank Fencil | frank.fencil@springhillcourier.com

SPRING HILL, Florida — In a sign of Hernando County’s continued downturn, brown bears have begun moving into the shuttered Sweetbay grocery story at Four Corners.

The bears first came to the attention of authorities earlier this week when a pair of teenagers broke into the store to explore. While one of them as spray painting a Springer Kings gang sign onto a dairy cooler, he was confronted by a large bear, believed to be protecting her cubs.

Two animal control employees attempted to enter the building the following day but were quickly driven away by three large males. In the short time they were in the store, they were able to estimate that as many as two dozen bears — some up to 7-feet tall and weighing as much as 700 pounds — have taken up residence.

Similar issues with animals and bears have been reported in other cities with shrinking suburban populations, most famously in and around Detroit. But never have brown bears, which are native to the Pacific Northwest, traveled so far for such prime real estate.

It’s unlikely humans will ever be able to reclaim the 44,500-square-foot store without a blood bath and probably losing a few of their own, but one expert said it’s not likely nearby residents have much to worry about.

“There appears to be enough food left in there to sustain them for some time,” Pasco-Hernando State College animal behavior professor Allison Brooks said. “Maybe you’ll see one or two of the young cubs get out and cause some issues, but most of what they’ll be able to catch are going to be old people, and it would be unusual for a brown bear to eat something so leathery and bitter more than once before it learns and moves on to easier prey like pets.”

Frank Fencil

Frank Fencil is an award-winning journalist with more than two decades' experience. He has uncovered government corruption, toppled dirty police forces and covered two foreign wars as an international correspondent. He chose to return to his native Spring Hill in hopes of giving his hometown the quality watchdog journalism it deserves.

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