Get into a discussion about downtown Sarasota and its businesses, and in no time the conversation will turn to how merchants are fleeing Main Street — the economy is killing business.
No question there are more vacant storefronts than there used to be downtown. But that’s only half of the story.
Although there are a number of businesses that have shut their doors downtown in the last six months, including Sarasota News and Books, Jake’s Downtown and Lemon Tree, there are twice as many new businesses that have entered the Sarasota scene (see box).
“If you have a product that people need, it doesn’t matter what the economic situation is,” said Wayne Rollins, owner of Black Bird Home Gallery, a high-end home furnishings store that opened two months ago on Main Street.
Despite the notion that everyone has severely cut back their budgets and aren’t spending money, Sarasotans have been buying Black Bird’s luxury items.
“We’ve exceeded our expectations so far,” Rollins said.
What many people say about downtown Sarasota is that it’s dead. Nobody comes. The sidewalks are empty. Shoppers would rather go to the mall or St. Armands Circle. But some merchants, such as Tim Morgan, owner of Belle du Jour, are relocating their stores to more prominent locations.
“I’m a great advocate of Main Street in any city, because of the exposure,” said Morgan, who relocated his store into the former Lemon Tree store Dec. 31 after 10 years in Burns Square.
Morgan has already seen an increase in sales.
Wendy Getchell, owner of Lotus and president of the Downtown Sarasota Alliance, said there’s more exposure on Main Street — exposure to customers and to local media.
“It’s not only the foot traffic,” she said. “There is always a lot of news about Main Street. When I opened (Lotus) six years ago, I chose Main Street because it’s built-in advertising.”
Rollins chose his store space, which is near Sangria Tapas Bar, because of the proximity to several restaurants.
“The majority of people who come in were going to dinner and noticed us,” said Rollins. “I need people to see me, and I’ve been really pleased with where I am.”
Queens’ Wreath Jewels, which had previously made its home solely on St. Armands Circle, opened an additional location on Main Street last year. It serves as a corporate office and as a salon for private showings.
“I love this particular spot,” said owner Tina Little. “It offers affordability, exclusivity and convenience.”
Downtown businessmen, in particular, frequent Queens’ Wreath’s private salon. But Little said residents from Longboat, Lido and St. Armands will make the trip downtown as well, even though she still has a retail store on the Circle inside The Met.
Rollins said many people reminded him of the negatives about opening up a new business in this economy.
“Everyone was telling us how bad the economy was,” said Rollins. “There are always excuses. The excuses before were that rent was too high, and there was too much competition.”
In the end, he felt he offered a service that was lacking downtown.
“If you really believe in your product, there’s never a bad time,” he said.
Business to business
Here is a list of businesses that have opened and closed in downtown Sarasota in the last six months.
• Breakfast House (December 2009)
• Belle du Jour (December 2009)
• Black Bird Home Gallery (November 2009)
• Bowman Originals (December 2009)
• The Box Social (August 2009)
• Braza Brazilian Steakhouse (October 2009)
• Butterfly Effect (October 2009)
• Candle Company (August 2009)
• Carlson Cleaners (October/November 2009)
• Dahlia Koss (November 2009)
• Dawaat (September 2009)
• Definition Fitness (December 2009)
• Divinia Jeanne’s Chocolate Heaven (August 2009)
• European Focus (August 2009)
• First Street Chop House (November 2009)
• Florida Laser and Wellness Center (November 2009)
• Interni Design Center (January 2010)
• Ivory (August 2009)
• Michael Urban Hair Studio (August 2009)
• Optional Art (December 2009)
• Picobello (November 2009)
• Queens’ Wreath Jewels (May 2009)
• Urban Reef (November 2009)
• Wearable Art (two locations — July 2009; Dec. 2009)
• Media on Main (February 2010)
• Owen’s Fish Camp (January/February 2010)
• Savory Streets Bakery and Café
• Stairway to Belgium (January 2010)
• Arosa (Summer 2009)
• 5 One 6 Burns (July 2009)
• Canvas Café (August 2009)
• Esca (October 2009)
• Jake’s Downtown (December 2009)
• Kelietza (November 2009)
• Lemon Tree (December 2009)
• O’Malley’s (May 2009)
• Passion for Phashion (April/May 2009)
• Sarasota News and Books (August 2009)
Contact Robin Roy at [email protected].