Chairman’s Message – October 2014

Welcome to the inaugural issue of The Downtown Merchants Journal, a brand new monthly publication created by the Sarasota Downtown Merchants Association (SDMA).

I’m so excited that the SDMA has launched this new publication to serve as a voice for all of the merchants who work so hard to make downtown Sarasota such an inspiring and vibrant shopping and dining destination.

Our vision is to make The Downtown Merchants Journal your go-to resource for all the news and events happening here in the heart of Sarasota.

In addition to highlighting upcoming events and activities, The Downtown Merchants Journal also will offer a behind-the-storefront peek into the eclectic boutiques, galleries, restaurants and businesses that line our streets and avenues.

Here’s your chance to become better acquainted with the spirited entrepreneurs that define our local business landscape as we spotlight the merchants on these pages.

You’ll also find “secret” recipes from downtown’s top chefs who have made so many of our eateries award-winning dining experiences.

Need to know where to park when visiting the downtown area? We’ve got that covered, too, with the map featured on the back cover.

I hope that you discover that The Downtown Merchants Journal echoes the pulse of all that makes our downtown

“neighborhood” extraordinary.

Enjoy our first issue!

Chairman’s Message – November 2014

In early October, the streets and avenues in downtown Sarasota were buzzing when the inaugural issue of The Downtown Merchants Journal, published by the Sarasota Downtown Merchants Association, was delivered!

We are thrilled that the first issue of our monthly publication was so well received. Not only have we provided a “voice” for the merchants in downtown Sarasota, but we also now have a publication of our very own in which we can share important headlines and happenings and spotlight upcoming events.

Copies have been distributed throughout the community, targeting a wide range of businesses, including:

Area Hotels (The Ritz-Carlton, Hotel Indigo, Hyatt Regency Sarasota & Lido Beach Resort) • Banks • City of Sarasota • Downtown Condominiums • Downtown Merchants • Local Realtors • Restaurants • Sarasota Farmers Market • Selby Library • The Greater Sarasota Chamber of Commerce • Visitors Centers

The ongoing success of The Downtown Merchants Journal will depend on your participation. And here’s why:

As the publication continues to grow, our goal is to create an additional source of revenue for SDMA, while helping to promote downtown merchants through advertising, profiles and community spotlights.

The revenue generated will then be used to increase our visibility in local newspapers and other media to promote events and activities held in downtown Sarasota, while also funding additional events to bring more people downtown and to secure our position as a destination worth visiting.

It’s a win-win situation! By supporting The Downtown Merchants Journal with your advertising, you gain widespread promotion of your business affordably, while helping SDMA to bring out the best in downtown Sarasota!

If you are interested in placing an ad, call 941-388-3647, or send an e-mail to

Chairman’s Message – December 2014

As another year comes to a close, the SDMA is proud of all that we, as a community, have accomplished during the past 12 months.

In our ongoing efforts to improve downtown Sarasota and to encourage area residents to shop, dine and enjoy the diverse entertainment that is available here, we have sponsored a wide variety of events that have brought thousands of people to our city’s streets and avenues.

We have been an active voice in local government, addressing issues that concern downtown merchants, while working side by side with our city officials to first define, then implement viable solutions.

We have instituted a successful cash-collection program that is raising funds to help the homeless in our community.

Perhaps one of SDMA’s most exciting accomplishments this year has been the launch of The Downtown Merchants Journal. We have received many wonderful comments about the publication, and we are especially pleased to discover that advertising in the journal has been working for downtown merchants!

Read what Anthony J. Vento, managing partner of i tesori, located at 1405 1st Street, has to say in this wonderful testimonial we recently received:

I have to say that I am very impressed with what the SDMA is doing to support downtown Sarasota businesses. For very little in ad spending, The Downtown Merchants Journal has been a great place to advertise for us. Just after the first issue we advertised in, a customer picked it up at the Farmers Market, came in and purchased what we had advertised. She specifically told me that it was the journal where she saw our ad!

To be certain, there will be new challenges in 2015 that will require our attention and our diligence. But if we work together, we can—and we will—continue to raise the bar in defining downtown Sarasota as the premier retail, dining and cultural destination, not only in our city and our county, but also on Florida’s Suncoast.

Wishing you and yours the happiest of holidays!

Chairman’s Message – January 2015

The beginning of a new year is always a time for both change and renewed resolve, and as we welcome 2015, I am proud to tell you that SDMA is committed to both.

The first change in order: A new look and a brand new name for SDMA’s own publication!

Since we unveiled our first issue in October 2014, we have introduced the publication as “the voice” of the downtown merchants within our community. We decided it was time that the name accurately reflected the publication’s ongoing mission, which is to serve as a vehicle to inform, inspire and support our downtown merchants and to further secure our position as the cornerstone of commerce in Sarasota proper.

Throughout the city’s history, downtown Sarasota always has been a business district first and foremost; independent merchants occupied buildings on our streets and avenues long before downtown became a mixed-use district.

It is the SDMA’s goal in the new year to reaffirm downtown Sarasota’s standing as a thriving merchant area.

We already are seeing evidence of this with the influx of high-quality retail stores that have made their home on Main Street in recent months.

But retail is just one segment of the growth downtown Sarasota is experiencing. Cranes can be spotted high above the city, symbolizing new construction that always is synonymous with progress. Condominiums, apartment complexes and parking garages that are slated for completion this year are being developed to accommodate a growing number of people who would like to establish permanent residence in downtown Sarasota in order to take advantage of the exceptional retail, dining, entertainment and cultural experiences, all within walking distance.

In closing, I would like to assure you that the SDMA will continue its efforts to unite our merchants and remain vigilant in our role to both strengthen and safeguard our downtown community in the coming year.

Working together, we are, after all, a continent—not an island—as well as a “voice” that deserves to be heard.

Chairman’s Message – February 2015

Season has arrived, and downtown Sarasota is enjoying an impressive surge in both foot traffic and trade as we welcome back travelers who visit Florida each year from across the country and around the world.

Bright sunshine, blue skies, T-shirt temperatures, beautiful beaches and a bustling downtown that offers an array of the finest and most unique retail, dining and cultural experiences…

…Is there a better place to be this time of year than here in downtown Sarasota?

As always, SDMA is hard at work in our efforts to improve the downtown experience, not only for our visitors, but also for our merchants, who are the heart and soul of our community.

In fact, I am pleased to report that SDMA membership is growing.

Our friends, Jim Reese and Neil Jennings, owners of Salon 41, located at 41 South Palm Avenue, recently joined SDMA. As you recall, Jim and Neil graciously donated their time and creativity to decorate the Christmas tree at Five Points Park in December, just in time for SDMA’s celebration of Holiday Party in the Park and for the enjoyment of downtown’s holiday shoppers.

Another new SDMA member is Parker Robinson Interiors, a unique shop featuring an eclectic collection of antiques, exquisite pearl jewelry and luxury European and Italian furnishings, located at 1521 Main Street.

Finally, FYZICAL Therapy & Balance Centers, which recently opened at 1599 Main Street to offer hands-on and customized physical therapy programs to help individuals attain optimal health and well being, also has signed on as a member of SDMA.

Now approximately 80 members strong, SDMA continues to work diligently toward realizing our vision, which is to “enhance downtown Sarasota as a premier retail destination with a vibrant merchant community.”

Every business is encouraged to join or renew their SDMA memberships so that we can continue to work on behalf of each and every merchant that adds to the character and diversity of our downtown community.

Membership dues are $120 a year—an affordable contribution that is used to support all SDMA does to cultivate not only improvements and enhancements, but also safety and security in downtown Sarasota.

Just a reminder—SDMA meetings are held the second Thursday of every month at Café Amici, located at 1371 Main Street. We kick off each meeting with a “Happy Half Hour” at 5:30 p.m., which is followed at 6:00 p.m. by a discussion of important downtown issues and upcoming events. All are welcome to attend, participate, address issues and share concerns; this is a chance for your voice to be heard!

We look forward to seeing all of you at our next meeting, which will be held on Thursday, February 12.

Chairman’s Message – March 2015

“This is the best advertising I have ever done.”

Powerful words, wouldn’t you agree? That’s just one of many comments the SDMA has received about the response that advertising in The VOICE of the Downtown Merchants has generated in our community!

Celebrating our six-month anniversary with the publication of this issue, the SDMA is proud of the progress we have made since the launch of our premiere issue in October 2014. We have increased the number of pages in the publication, we continue to add new advertisers every issue, and, since our January issue, we have adopted a more eye-catching magazine format with a full-color image on the cover of each issue —all taken by local photographers.

Although we have made great strides in a short period of time, as the classic song reminds us, “We have only just begun.” There are so many stories waiting to be told…profiles of our fellow merchants, interviews with “Our City” officials, highlights of upcoming events, editorial commentaries on important issues that have an impact on downtown…and so much more.

It is because of your support that we can continue to provide such a valuable and informative tool, and we are grateful to each of the downtown businesses that have participated in our publication from the outset.

If you haven’t yet taken advantage of the affordable advertising opportunities offered in The VOICE, why not send an e-mail to

I hope that you have taken a moment to look at our masthead (on page 3 of this issue) to see the names of the people that are working behind the scenes to bring you The VOICE each month. What you may not realize is that we are working with a skeleton crew. Even more importantly, everyone on our staff has full-time and often-demanding jobs, in addition to producing our monthly publication! And, despite the fact that deadline week often is beyond crazy with long hours and late nights, we persevere for one simple reason: we are wholeheartedly committed to the continued growth of downtown Sarasota as a premier retail, dining and entertainment destination.

With that said, I would like to point out that SDMA is once again sponsoring two very important events this month.

On Saturday, March 7, and Sunday, March 8, The Sarasota Luxury Living & Lifestyle Expo will be held at 33 South Gulfstream Avenue from 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. This event showcases many of the finer things in life, from classic and contemporary art, wines and home décor to fashions, jewelry and more.

The following weekend, The Sarasota Fine Art Festival, hosted by Paragon Fine Art Festivals, will draw more than 110 artists, who will showcase their work in an array of mediums, including ceramics, glass, sculpture and wood, as well as original paintings, photography and jewelry. Also held at 33 South Gulfstream Avenue, the festival’s hours are 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., on Saturday March 14, and 11:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. on Sunday, March 15.

We are expecting thousands of attendees at both events, bringing scores of visitors to downtown Sarasota.

On a final note, the monthly SDMA meeting will be held on Thursday, March 12, at 5:30 p.m., at Café Amici, located at 1371 Main Street. I hope to see all of you there!

Chairman’s Message – April 2015


Anyone in our downtown community who knows me has heard me say these three words over and over again.

And with good reason.

Giving money directly to street people doesn’t solve the problem; it simply perpetuates it.

Sadly, cash collected by concerned passersby is not used to make mortgage, car or utility payments or even to buy a healthy meal. Instead, it buys the next drink or drug fix or enables the individual to engage in illegal activities.

Homeless expert Dr. Robert Marbut knows this for a fact. He reports that 93 percent of the cash given to homeless people is spent on drugs and alcohol.

In recent months, the SDMA has taken a proactive approach to controlling vagrancy on our city’s streets. We have just replaced our street signs with new signs that have a kinder, gentler message that read, “Please Keep the Change: Don’t Support Panhandling” and include Dr. Marbut’s statistics on where these donations are spent.

DSCF6041 - cmyk In fall 2014, the SDMA also launched the “Downtown Cares” Collection Box Drive to encourage both residents and visitors to help the homeless by making donations that are guaranteed to have a positive impact. These funds are dispersed to three local agencies—The Salvation Army, Resurrection House and Harvest House—that have resources in place to provide food, shelter, clothing and counseling, all intended to help the homeless get their lives back on track.

To date, $600 has been collected in the “Downtown Cares” campaign.

You may not be aware of this, but the majority of people we see on the streets of downtown Sarasota only represent about 18 percent of the actual homeless population in our city. And the people lingering on Main Street, Central Avenue and in other nearby neighborhoods are, more often than not, individuals who are struggling with alcohol, drug and mental health issues.

Granted, there are local families who are homeless, too. A husband/father has lost his job; the family is evicted and has no other place to live except in their car, with their children, while Dad is out looking for employment. Mom stays in hiding, because she is both ashamed and terrified that her children will be taken from her.

These aren’t the people you are likely to see on the streets of downtown Sarasota, but they are the people that need—and deserve—our help.

Nearly 40 downtown Sarasota’s retail shops and restaurants are participating in the collection box drive.

Please encourage all of your customers and patrons to make a donation in one of the “Downtown Cares” boxes rather than giving money directly to homeless people.

Chairman’s Message – June/July 2015

Change is happening at The VOICE!

I hope you take a minute to look at our masthead on page 3 to see the new additions to the team responsible for bringing you The VOICE of the Downtown Merchants.

We are honored to have Jim Elliott, a locally celebrated food and wine connoisseur, as our lead feature writer. Jim will be writing restaurant profiles and using his expertise to pair wines with foods he enjoys at our city’s finest eateries.

Kellie Campayno, owner of Bohemian Bliss Boutique, located at 1544 Main Street, has signed on as our ­fashion writer, bringing up-to-date information on the hottest ­what-to-wear trends each season.

We also welcome professional photographer Leah ­Vartanian, who will be capturing images that reflect the essence of downtown Sarasota and sharing them in the pages of The VOICE.

Last—but certainly not least—I would like to ­acknowledge Betty Berg, who, from our very first issue, has worked diligently to proofread all of our ads and ­editorial pages. It’s time Betty received the recognition she ­deserves!

In just nine months of publishing, The VOICE has doubled in size! While we are thrilled with the publication’s growth, we have decided, with this issue, to publish 10 issues a year. Both June/July and August/September will be combined issues, and we will resume monthly issues in October.

Our monthly meetings for the Sarasota Downtown ­Merchants Association also are undergoing change. ­Beginning in June, board members of the SDMA will meet on the second Thursday of each month at different ­downtown restaurants. All SDMA members are, of course, invited to attend the meetings and will receive a monthly reminder via e-mail. You also can check the calendar on our website,, to find out where the meeting is being held each month.

Now, tell me—who says that downtown Sarasota slows down after season? The months of June and July are jam-packed with events and activities that promise fun for all!

Kicking off the month of June, on First Friday, June 5, Neil Jennings and Jim Reese, owners of Salon 41, will celebrate the grand ­opening of Palm Avenue Express, the brand new sundries store/bodega, which is adjacent to the salon at 43 S. Palm Avenue. Stop by ­between 6:00 and 9:00 p.m., and enjoy hors ­d’oeuvres, a ­champagne fountain and music by DJ Joey. Find out more about Palm Avenue Express in the article on page 12.

On Tuesday, June 9, McCurdy’s Comedy Theater is celebrating its first year downtown anniversary with a big bash that includes drinks, food, a comedy show, live music and a dance party. The ­celebration will be held ­outdoors at 1923 Ringling Boulevard. ­Tickets are $35 each and can be ­purchased at the club or online at ­

On Father’s Day, Sunday, June 21, SDMA is proud to present the Third Annual Fathers & Fenders Car Show. This year, we are expecting as many as 120 vintage cars at this family event that will be held from 10:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. at Selby Five Points Park. Bring dad—and the entire family—and enjoy food, music and a full bar.

On Saturday, June 27, you won’t want to miss the Fifth Annual Shrimp and Lobster Festival hosted by the ­Sarasota Farmers Market. Held in the First Church parking lot on State Street, there will be an array of mouthwatering shrimp and lobster dishes for purchase, along with live music by “Big Night Out,” all held under a 200-foot tent! Read more about one of downtown Sarasota’s biggest early-summer attractions in the article that begins on page 6.

Finally, on Friday, July 3, the Sarasota Powerboat Grand Prix Festival brings the Downtown Festival Parade of Boats & Block Party to the streets of Sarasota! From 4:00 p.m. until midnight, the block party will be held on Lemon Avenue between First Street and State Street. At 6:00 p.m., the parade of boats will cruise down Main Street. The ­powerboats will then be on display until 11:00 p.m. from Orange ­Avenue to Palm Avenue on Main Street.

I hope that you will kick off the season by attending one or all of these fun-filled events! And be sure to check our calendar of events online for more upcoming events and activities.

Have a great summer!


Chairman’s Message – October/November 2015

With the start of season just around the corner, the SDMA is hard at work planning a variety of events and festivities to inspire

­community residents and visitors to consistently count ­downtown ­Sarasota as a not-to-be-missed ­destination for a myriad of entertainment ­opportunities.

But, before I mention all that is going on in the coming weeks and months, I would like to announce that Paul ­Thorpe, known throughout Sarasota as “Mr. Downtown,” has agreed to serve as SDMA’s new ­executive director. Paul brings a wealth of knowledge and experience to his new position, and we are very ­fortunate to have him working on our team.

He has, in fact, been instrumental in orchestrating the design and development of the SDMA’s new downtown map. When open, the pocket-sized map will include a complete view of downtown at a glance.

Watch for delivery of this often-requested and much-needed map this month.

Now, on to exciting news about our upcoming events!

It is SDMA’s vision to make not just the first Friday of the month, but every Friday night a reason to visit ­downtown Sarasota. Consequently, we are starting to plan fun, family events to kick off every weekend.

As you know, every First Friday is the Palm Avenue Art Work, which is hosted by the Downtown Sarasota Alliance and offers special themed events, music, refreshments and more in the lower part of downtown.

On September 11, we launched “Cruise Night,” a brand new event that featured ­antique and classic cars, as well as hot rods. This popular event will be held on each ­second Friday going forward and, once the new roundabout is complete, we will move to Lemon Avenue and add DJ music.

Other ideas under consideration for the third and fourth Fridays of the month include “Music in the Park”—featuring live music, food trucks and beer and wine sales in Five Points Park—and “Art on Main & ­Beyond,” an evening that will spotlight the work of local artists, who will set up easels and artwork displays throughout downtown.

In addition to our plans to jump start Friday nights, here are more up-and-coming, SDMA-sponsored events that are certain to bring attendees of all ages downtown:

  • Dog-a-Ween—Saturday, October 31—Five Points Park
  • Sarasota Fall Fine Art Festival—Saturday, November 21 & Sunday, November 22—Gulfstream Avenue
  • The Annual Holiday Tree Lighting—NEW NIGHT! ­Thursday, December 3—Five Points Park
  • New Year’s Eve Celebration & Pineapple Drop—­Thursday, December 31 & Friday, January 1

I invite each and every one of you to get ­involved by volunteering at and/or participating in these events and to encourage your friends, family members and ­customers to support SDMA’s efforts to continue to ­cultivate more and more reasons to visit—and enjoy—downtown ­Sarasota.


Chairman’s Message – March 2016

Ron Soto, SDMA's Chairman

Ron Soto, SDMA’s Chairman

As many of you know, there has been a great deal of controversy surrounding one of downtown Sarasota’s annual events, Thunder by the Bay. Produced by Suncoast ­Charities for Children, the motorcycle festival ­raises ­millions of dollars for special needs ­individuals and families in our community, and in one weekend this past January, the event had an estimated $9 million ­economic impact on our community.

What you may not realize is that because of this ongoing controversy surrounding Thunder by the Bay, as of right now…
…the City of Sarasota has put a moratorium on all events in 2017.

That’s right—events that usually are planned up to a year in ­advance and always draw thousands of people downtown to our streets and our parks cannot be scheduled for next year.

Did you happen to attend the Sarasota Seafood & Music Festival presented by the SDMA in late January? With literally thousands of attendees, the two-day event was a home run for the SDMA, thanks to Bill Kinney and Paragon Events, the festival’s producers.

It is events like the seafood festival—and countless others throughout the year—that raise funds for the SDMA. And where do these funds go? Back into our city to do the things that, in other communities, are typically paid for by the city, but here in Sarasota are not.

As an example, this past holiday season, the SDMA refurbished all of our Christmas lights on the street poles, and we also purchased new ornaments. And for the upcoming holiday season, we have purchased a brand new, 30-foot Christmas tree for Five Points Park that will replace the 30-year-old tree that truly has seen better days.

SDMA also funded the development of the new city map and, within the last 18 months, launched The VOICE of the Downtown Merchants—two very important marketing tools that support our merchants and promote our downtown community.
Without our events and festivals, the SDMA will not have the funds to make downtown Sarasota a more appealing and inviting place to visit, dine or shop.

Personally, I can remember when downtown used to be the only place to shop in Sarasota. And I also was here when ­downtown ­became a ghost town with the development of Gulf Gate’s ­shopping centers and the mall in South Sarasota.

I cannot imagine coming to Sarasota as a tourist during the winter months with absolutely nothing to do here…can you?

In a recent conversation with Bill Kinney, who has produced many art shows and festivals in downtown Sarasota and throughout the state, Bill told me, ”Cities all over Florida are trying to get special events to come to their communities to stimulate activity.”

And I ask you this: Why is our city placing a moratorium on events in downtown Sarasota that stimulate activity?

Here’s the bottom line: These events and festivals are good for downtown business and good for our merchants.
Just ask Sully over at Patrick’s 1481—the recent art show held on Main Street between Orange Avenue and Links Avenue was “outstanding” for his business; the restaurant was jam-packed both Saturday and Sunday.

If you like our special events and festivals and want them to ­continue, click here to send us an e-mail at

I will be going before the city commissioners again to fight this moratorium. Yes, there is strength in numbers, and I am counting on all of you to join me.