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Sarasota Thursday, Feb. 7, 2019 6 months ago

Home-based business waves victory flag

Flagman of Sarasota gains backing of County Commission to keep business running, gaining legal status for the first time since 1971.
by: Samantha Chaney Staff Writer

A cool breeze stirs wind chimes and draws visitors through an open front door, past a lazing porch cat. 

“Welcome,” is painted on the floorboards. Inside, flag boxes, poles and overflowing shelves draw the eye in every direction.

There’s Dede Horne, taking business orders with a pen on a  legal pad. She doesn’t conduct business via computer — in fact, she doesn’t own one.

That’s how the Flagman family business has been run for decades on 17th Street, near The Meadows.

“I’ve got community support because I do no harm,” she laughed. “I just sell flags.”

In business since the Nixon administration, the Flagman of Sarasota was recognized in January as a legal business by the Sarasota County Commission, nearly 50 years after opening in 1971.

And one of the Flagman’s customers? Sarasota County itself, Horne says.

“Had we known that we’d been in business illegally, I don’t think we would have waited 49 years to go to the county,” she said. “It was almost the county’s responsibility to say, ‘Wait a minute, the county buys their flags here.’”

The fate of the business was initially brought into question when Horne decided she wanted to tear down and rebuild the home from which she operates, which sits on 3 acres off 17th Street. 

When declaring the purpose of the property as part of the permitting process, she learned of the zoning regulations actually prohibited her operations for years because the Flagman sells items not made on the premises.

As a result, Horne and Brian Lichterman, her agent, tried since June 2017 to make things right in the county’s eyes. But from asking to be recognized as a “historic business” to seeing how county code enforcers could be flexible within the current rules, they just couldn’t seem to push their way through.

Dede Horne inherited the Flagman business from her brother, Ned Horne. She aims to keep the business running in his memory.

Finally, they went Jan. 16 to the County Commission to ask that the language in the restriction be changed to include “flags and

flag accessories” as legal retail items. By adding a few more words to the ordinance, they said, they could easily meet the county’s terms.

The problem? The changes they proposed would go into effect countywide.

“It’s so incredibly specific to the point that, honestly, I don’t get it,” Commissioner Michael Moran said, initially arguing against the new language.

“I am very concerned about unintended consequences,” Commissioner Nancy Detert said. “Having a countywide policy, I think, is fraught with alligators.”

In particular, commissioners cited concerns about how the change could set a problematic precedent.

“I had no idea that trying to put in a new building was going to create all this,” Horne said. “It’s just that the house is so old, even all the termites have moved on.”

“I’ve got community support because I do no harm. I just sell flags.”

Ultimately, many of the commissioners said they were impressed with Horne’s efforts. Moran even questioned why her efforts had to go this far. Eventually, Commission Chair Charles Hines was the only official not on board.

“This is bad precedent for people who are going to come behind you,” he said. “It’s the overall policy I’m trying to protect.”

Commissioners ultimately approved Horne’s request with a 4-1 vote, officially making the Flagman of Sarasota a legal business. But had she not been able to clear the County Commission meeting, Horne said she had a backup plan.

The story of her struggle spread among community members beyond her regular customers — even Reddit users who had stumbled across her story online sat in the back of the commission meeting that day to see how it all turned out.

“I have stacks and stacks of petitions that people have signed to keep me in business,” Horne said. “But I was ready to say, ‘Even if you deny me, it’s been a heck of a run.’”

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