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Sheila and Mike Lewis stand under the towering wall of bicycles the couple rents out as owners of Siesta Sports Rentals.
Siesta Key Thursday, May. 31, 2012 5 years ago

Key home to British transplants

by: Alex Mahadevan News Innovation Editor

If you ask Sheila Lewis what she misses about her native England, she says she doesn’t miss the dreary weather one bit before admitting to missing pubs and the countryside.

Her husband, Mike Lewis, worked in factories for quarter of a century before the couple moved in 2005 to Siesta Key from Cardiff, Wales. Now, part of his job requires him to lead groups weaving canals and mangroves under sunshine that pushes temperatures well into the 90s during summer.

The beckoning of America’s 2011 No. 1 beach, as chosen by coastal researcher Stephen Leatherman, is certainly a big perk for Britons looking for milder weather, but an already thriving community of English business owners is another beacon for chaps from across the pond. If the effects of being ranked America’s finest beach continue to reverberate and the European economy continues to suffer, there could be some new businesses sprouting up, explains Keith Redding of Key Solutions Real Estate Group. Key Solutions earlier this year opened a new office on Siesta partly to meet Europeans at this transition.

The Lewises own Siesta Sports Rentals in the Davidson Drugs complex on the south end of Siesta, which they have run since buying the store in 2005. The British family, which also includes a son and daughter, vacationed in Sarasota for almost 20 years before following through with their plan to buy a business here.
“We always went to Lido until another Brit told us about Siesta,” Sheila Lewis says.

In 2004, Mike Lewis strolled into Siesta Key Bicycle Rentals on Midnight Pass Road, intending to rent a bike while his wife and kids hung out by at the pool at Gulf & Bay Club. Lewis ended up starting a much larger transaction when he discovered the owner, another U.K. native, wanted to sell the business.

“It was, like, spooky,” says Sheila Lewis. The couple had made the decision to start searching for a business to buy to start their lives on Siesta.

After six months of filing financial documents, the family became Siesta Key residents and they found common company among British transplants who owned businesses ranging from hair salons to motels.

“It was an easy transition,” Sheila Lewis says. “We settled in straight away.”

One draw that attracts local British commercial activity is an investment visa, know as the E-2, which allows U.K. investors to work and live in the U.S. Many of the British business owners on Siesta have used that as a means to turn an annual vacation into a new life, says Mike Lewis while cranking away at the oily tire of one of the rental scooters.

And the Lewis family makes sure to note that although British camaraderie eased the transition into American life, they certainly don’t discriminate when it comes to friends.

“We’ve got a lot of good American friends as well,” Sheila says smiling. “We don’t just stick with the British.”

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