When Sarasota installed parking meters in May, the owner of the First Street Chop House said he knew things were going to be tough; he just didn’t know how tough.
“I never figured I would be the first one to go,” said David Arnold. “I just thought I’d have to fight a little more.”
The Chop House, at 1296 First St., abruptly closed its doors July 11, after failing to pay its July rent.
Arnold lays most of the blame on downtown parking meters.
He posted a message on his website and on Facebook detailing the decline in business he said he experienced beginning May 23, the day the meters went online (see box).
That first day of downtown meters was also the first day he had no customers at lunch, he said. Previously, he had averaged about 25 each day.
“I thought, ‘Holy smokes, (the city) has made a grievous error,’” said Arnold.
Although many business owners gave their blessing to the parking meters, some of those people changed their minds just a week into the program.
They bombarded City Hall with phone calls and emails and showed up in large contingents at commission meetings, telling city leaders that meters were driving away customers.
There was, however, a group of downtown retailers who felt some business owners were panicking a little early; these people attributed empty parking spaces to employees who no longer parked all day in front of stores, along with the normal summer slowdown.
When the meters were bagged July 6, Arnold said business immediately returned. He told landlord Larry Goichman that he would be able to pay his rent by the end of the month, but Goichman wouldn’t budge.
“It was one of the hardest phone calls I had to make,” said Arnold. “But even harder was telling my 15 employees that they didn’t have a job anymore.”
Arnold said he was given two hours to leave the restaurant.
Goichman could not be reached for comment. During the six-week period the parking meters were online, Arnold claims his receipts were down 60% compared to the same period last year.
“I put $300,000 of my own money into the Chop House, and now it’s all gone,” said Arnold. “It’s a sickening feeling.”
As for what he’ll do next, Arnold said he has a couple of opportunities to open a new restaurant, but only if he can find investors.
“You poured two years of your life and had people pour their lives into it,” he said. “It’s hard.”
Contact Robin Roy at firstname.lastname@example.org.
LETTERS TO PATRONS:
It is with great sadness that I report First Street Chop House was evicted from our location Monday July 11 for being 10 days late on our rent.
There were many things that led up to this, however, one recent item was our death nail (sic): Seven weeks ago, parking meters were put in the downtown area which immediately resulted in a 60% reduction of revenue yet our fixed costs stayed the same. To my loyal employees, I say a heartfelt thank you. To my ever loyal guests who believed in our concept, week after week, I thank you for your support. To my loyal vendors who found a way to help me through these last two years, I am humbled and thank you. Lastly, to those who find joy in what has happened, I am truly sorry for you.
An effort to keep Sarasota’s locally owned businesses afloat has popped up on the Internet.
SaveSarasota.com lists participating local businesses and encourages customers to solicit those local businesses.
Visitors to the website can purchase a $5 Save Sarasota card, and when they show it to any of the participating businesses, they receive discounts or rewards.