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Downtown merchants make play for music

Businesses in downtown Sarasota want to add amplified music throughout the district to enhance the shopping experience for visitors.

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  • | 6:00 a.m. August 3, 2017
Downtown merchants believe an amplified music system would help attract shoppers.
Downtown merchants believe an amplified music system would help attract shoppers.
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Walking down Main Street, you’re likely to hear a mixture of sounds — not just the ambient noises of the city, but different music emerging from downtown businesses.

Rather than embracing the cacophony, downtown merchants are hoping to create a more harmonious sonic environment. On Tuesday, the Downtown Improvement District discussed the possibility of installing speakers downtown to play music throughout the area.

The idea started with Jerry King, the owner of Express Pak SRQ on Palm Avenue. King is president of the Palm Avenue Merchants Association, and businesses in the area originally envisioned an amplified music system that would help the street stand out within downtown.

Eventually, drawing inspiration from commercial areas such as Lakewood Ranch and The Mall at University Town Center, the group decided the music could be even more productive in a bigger segment of downtown.

“If you do it all together, integrate it, you identify and unify an entire shopping area,” King said. “It unifies all the merchants together under a single brand. It’s not just Main Street.”

DID Chairman Ron Soto expressed an interest in pursuing the music project, creating a continuous musical presence.

“I think, for downtown, that would make it a nice, pleasant walk,” Soto said. “We’ve had people come to City Hall to complain about all the different music.”

The details of actually implementing a music system throughout downtown are unclear. Last year, the St. Armands Business Improvement District decided to stop playing music through a speaker system set up throughout the shopping district. St. Armands officials said businesses kept playing their own music, creating a clash of noises.

On Tuesday, DID board member Mark Kauffman questioned how downtown leaders could get individual businesses to turn down their speakers in favor of a unified system. There were also questions about the cost of installing a speaker system, estimated at about $70,000.

Still, there’s enthusiasm for the concept among downtown businesses. About a dozen merchants showed up to support the proposal at Tuesday’s meeting, and King said more wanted to attend.

Mark Zemil, owner of Zemil Jewelers on Main Street, said he thought music would put downtown shoppers in a good mood, encouraging visitors to spend more time in the area and come back. Zemil and others indicated a desire to keep improving downtown to ensure visitors don’t opt to shop or dine elsewhere.

“People only have a certain amount of dollars,” Zemil said. “If they spend them at the UTC Mall, they can’t spend them downtown.”

Despite his skepticism, Kauffman said he wanted to keep exploring the music idea because of the support shown at Tuesday’s meeting. The board unanimously agreed to revisit the topic at a future meeting in greater detail.

“I like the idea,” Kauffman said. “It’s not cheap. The installation is very expensive. The maintenance is expensive. But if that many people show this much interest in it, I’d like to pursue it.”


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