The Sports Page Bar & Grille is one of two Main Street landmarks that will be demolished next month to make way for The Jewel, a 17-story luxury condo tower.
The Sports Page has become lower Main’s go-to-football-game hangout for locals and vacationers alike over the years.
“Everyone is asking, ‘Are you opening somewhere else?’” said Sports Page co-owner Kenny Barr.
That’s the plan, Barr said. Barr and co-owner Bob Richards are seeking a new home downtown — ideally a space west of Orange Avenue either on or one block from Main Street. They’re currently in talks with property owners. They want to stay downtown: Locals from nearby condos often come for lunch or call in to place a delivery order from the liquor store.
The Sports Page, at 1319 Main St., and neighboring business Living Walls Furniture & Design, 1311 Main St., will both close next month. The businesses sold their buildings to developer Tom Mannausa, who plans to break ground on The Jewel in the fall.
Alison Levin Bishop, president of Living Walls, sold the building for $1.4 million in May. The Sports Page sold its building for $1.2 million in July.
Bishop said she plans to retire and will not re-open Living Walls. The store has been on Main Street for 28 years.
Once constructed, The Jewel will feature five new commercial spaces, including the new office for Mannausa’s development firm. Mannausa declined to name the other tenants but said the potential businesses included an art studio and gallery, a jeweler and a day spa.
According to Mannausa, Café Epicure, will stay put, but its façade may change to blend it in with The Jewel’s design. Ownership of the café building will not change.
In 1981, Allison Levin Bishop joined the family furniture store that her parents, Ruth and Basil Levin, founded in 1970. The store was originally located on St. Armands Circle; it moved downtown in 1985. As a downtown retailer, in 1986, Bishop was involved with the city’s first downtown master plan process. She was also one of merchants who lobbied for the Palm Avenue public garage built in 2011.
“As Sarasota grew and changed, we became a part of the redevelopment effort in the 1980s,” said Bishop.
Main Street has changed drastically; it was a one-way street in the early 1980s.
“It has become a tourist destination,” Bishop said, “but it wasn’t when it started.”
Running Living Walls has been exciting, but, according to Bishop, it’s required long hours and hard work.
“It has been very exciting, but it’s time to breathe,” said Bishop.
Bishop has supported Mannausa’s development since she first heard about it because it made the best use of the prime property at Main Street and Gulfstream Avenue, she said.
“He was visionary — positive and enthusiastic,” Bishop said.
Bishop described developer Samuel Hamad’s previous proposal for a narrow tower on a smaller parcel of land as “a stick of margarine.”
Hamad’s project, called Marquee on the Bay, fell apart during the downturn in the economy. Mannausa purchased the parcel from Hamad’s estate in 2010 for $870,000. After purchasing the two nearby buildings, which currently house Living Walls and the Sports Page, Mannausa has assembled a total of three parcels for .36-acres.
The property stretches across 150 feet of Main Street. Mannausa plans to demolish the buildings at 1311 and 1319 Main St. starting April 22.
In 1995, Kenny Barr and his mother, Edith Barr Dunn, closed Shenkel’s Restaurant on Longboat Key. Barr and Bob Richards decided to open a bar together.
At the time, the men were sitting in the Sports Page talking about what possible bars they could purchase, when then co-owner Bob Tominelli popped the question.
“Bobby said, ‘You guys are looking for a restaurant. How about this one?’” Barr said.
Barr and Richards purchased Sports Page, which had been open for five-and-a-half years. In 2003, they renovated the restaurant and bar and opened the adjoining wine-and-liquor store.
About 65% of business comes from the bar and grill, with the other 35% coming from liquor-store sales. Longtime bartender, Sean Bargin, has been behind the bar for 18 years, and some of the waitstaff has worked at the Sports Page for more than 10 years.
The restaurant is adorned with sports memorabilia, including autographed photos from former Ohio State running back Howard “Hopalong” Cassidy and University of Michigan football former head coach Glenn Schembechler. There are 100 photos in the office that didn’t fit on the restaurant’s walls. When Cal Ripken Jr. was undergoing injury rehabilitation in Sarasota, the Orioles shortstop ate at the restaurant almost every night. Snowbirds continue to come to the bar and grill year after year.
“We had one police chief from a village outside Chicago come down every year,” Barr said. “He’s retired now, but we still see him every year.”
Richards said his favorite aspect of running Sports Page has been the people he’s met, and hearing a patron say, “This is the best Reuben.”
Recently, he’s heard some regular customers saying, “We’ll miss this place.”