When Maus & Hoffman closed its St. Armands Circle store last summer, the four tenants in the building at 349 Monroe Drive, which was owned by a Maus family-owned trust, continued with business as usual. But on Nov. 19, shortly after Manuel Fontanot’s Fontanot LLC bought the building, three of those four tenants received notice that they had to leave within 30 days.
“We were all really caught off guard,” said Tina Bazell, who co-owns European Alterations by Toni & Toni’s Too Boutique with her mother, Toni Auteri, and sister, Tonietta Coit.
Shelley Stein, MSW, LCSW, a psychotherapist who has operated her practice in the building for the past six years, and Yacht Harbor Realty, owned by David and Lois Trotochau, were given 30-day notices. Only Manfred Welfonder, whose business, MW Development & Investment Advisory Inc., is located in an upstairs office in the building, was not given notice of termination.
Both Bazell and Stein said that their leases with Maus & Hoffman had a clause that guaranteed them six months notice before termination. They contacted an attorney representing Fontanot, who they said acknowledged the lease and agreed that they would be allowed to stay for at least six months. But the Trotochaus, who had a month-to-month lease, vacated their space in the building Dec. 8 after 15 years at that location. They have since relocated their business to their St. Armands Key home.
“It was very disturbing to the business,” Trotochau said. “I had no intention of moving out.”
Fontanot could not be reached for comment Tuesday, Jan. 19.
According to the Sarasota County Property Appraiser’s Web site, sarasotaproperty.net, Fontanot’s limited-liability company purchased the 9,313-square-foot building for $2,995,000. The 2009 just-market value listed for the property is $1,964,600. In November, Fontanot’s son, Azore, told The Longboat Observer that the family hoped to open a Mexican restaurant in the building. Fontanot submitted a proposal for review to the Sarasota Development Review Committee for a pre-application review session in October, before his company bought the building. The proposal would convert the existing two-story building from retail-and-office use to a restaurant with seating for 150. According to the city’s pre-application comments, restaurants are a permitted use within the Commercial Tourist Zone District.
Bazell and Stein say they have continued to send their rent checks every month and have not received a letter giving them six months notice. However, Stein said that last week, she gave Fontanot her six-month notice of termination required by the lease, a decision she made, in part, because she worried about noise.
“My practice involves a quiet, peaceful environment,” she said. “Out of respect to my clients, I have to maintain that environment.”
At Toni’s, Bazell said her family is waiting to hear what’s next. She said that if the boutique’s lease is terminated, her family hopes to find another location on the Circle.
“We’re basically in limbo,” Bazell said.
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