The facts are undeniable—the landscape of downtown Sarasota is evolving as new condominiums and hotels, as well as office and mixed-use projects, are currently in development or nearing completion.
According to the City of Sarasota’s Office of Downtown Economic Development, construction projects valued at close to $700 million are now in the works. And evidence is all around us—just look at the skyline as you drive toward the city, across the John Ringling Causeway.
While downtown’s revitalization is destined to have a tremendous impact on our economy by attracting new residents, visitors and businesses to the city, there is one characteristic that must remain unchanged in order to preserve Sarasota’s uniqueness that has always been—and continues to be—what I believe is the city’s biggest draw.
That characteristic is the sense of community established by the mom and pop businesses that line downtown’s streets and avenues.
Growing up in Sarasota, I always have believed that the foundation of downtown Sarasota’s charm has been the small, family-owned businesses that you can visit year after year and be greeted by the same owners who know their customers by name.
Ron Campion, owner of Kennedy Studios at 1472 Main Street, for example, has been greeting customers for the past 28 years.
Master jeweler Karl Shrode, Jr., and his daughter, Susan Shrode- Berry, a gemologist, continue their family’s 80-year tradition of selling exquisite jewelry that was started in 1936 by Karl’s parents, Ethyl and Karl Shrode, when Shrode Jewelers opened at 1433 Main Street.
And, of course, I personally have been greeting customers at Soto’s Opticians on Main Street for the past 41 years.
It is the owners of downtown’s mom & pop businesses that will bend over backwards to make sure you are satisfied with your purchases…they will open earlier or stay later if you cannot stop by during normal business hours…they offer pickup and delivery services to their loyal patrons…they take a genuine interest in your life, sitting beside you, offering a shoulder to cry on if you have lost a loved one or celebrating the birth of a new baby in your family.
You often don’t find this level of service in corporate America, simply because everything points to the bottom line, and this kind of personalized attention simply is not profitable for big businesses.
But here in downtown Sarasota, these fine folks that willingly offer this attentive service day in and day out are the heart and soul of our merchant community. And many of the patrons who visit these businesses are not just “customers”; instead, they are people with whom local business owners share lasting relationships and, more often than not, enduring friendships.
With an influx of bigger money chains within the city perimeters, along with the development of mega malls just a few short miles away, it is up to us, as downtown residents and business owners, to uphold the spirit of community that has made downtown Sarasota an internationally respected shopping destination on the Suncoast.
I encourage each and every one of you to shop locally and support our local mom and pop businesses that have been the backbone of our city since its earliest days…and that The VOICE will be spotlighting in future issues.
In the light of the city’s projected growth and development, I certainly don’t want to lose the charm and uniqueness of downtown Sarasota…do you?