According to a group of Siesta Key Village retailers, a recent increase in code enforcement on the Key, during a time when commerce is already beginning to slow after season, has had a negative impact on their businesses.
Members of the Siesta Key Village Association, in conjunction with Sarasota County staff members, hosted a Siesta Key Overlay District educational workshop Tuesday, May 21, to ensure all Village business owners were familiar with the rules outlined in the zoning code. Since the workshop, several retailers have learned that some of their business practices in violation of the zoning code.
One portion of the zoning code prohibits any type of outdoors merchandise display, which several business owners say is their main method of attracting customers.
Martha Smith, owner of Le Grand Bisou Caribbean Boutique, on Ocean Boulevard across from Davidson’s Plaza, has used mannequins to display her merchandise from beneath the eave of her storefront since opening in November. In the weeks since she’s removed her outdoor merchandise to comply with code, she says her daily sales numbers dropped from $1,665 to $195 — nearly a 90% decrease.
“People think I’m closed now, because I’ve had to move all of my merchandise inside,” says Smith. “I’m happy to compromise. I can understand the desire to keep the Village looking nice and keep things out of the sidewalks, but for the smaller retail stores, it’s already hard enough for us to let people know we’re here.”
If merchants choose to continue to violate code, they face citation from code-enforcement officers and subsequent court hearings.
Smith says she’s interested in forming a committee to help formulate revision in the zoning code, and several businesses have already expressed interest in joining. The focus of the committee would be to take proposed changes either directly to the Sarasota County Zoning Department for a $1,000 fee, plus the advertising cost for subsequent public hearings, or to bring the issue before county commissioners, who would then work with zoning and incur the costs.
Drafted in 2001, the Siesta Key Overlay District has seen minor revisions since its inception, but no major overhauls.
When the issue came up at the monthly Siesta Key Village Association meeting Tuesday, June 4, President Cheryl Gaddie and other board members encouraged concerned businesses to collaborate with all stakeholders, including fellow business owners, as well as residents and the county, to reach a solution that would benefit everyone.
Board members also suggested bundling all issues with the overlay district — not just the outdoor-merchandise portion — before moving forward.
But James Ritter, owner of Siesta Village Outfitters, says in the months it could take to see change, his business will continue to suffer if he continues to comply with code.
“This could take a few months,” said Ritter at the SKVA meeting. “By then, I could be closed. I’ve put my heart into this business.”
Gaddie and SKVA board members say they are willing to do whatever they can to help support business owners in the Village.
“Hopefully we can get (the code) changed to better serve us and the community,” says Smith. If businesses like mine can’t survive, that’s not helping anyone.”