Two City of Sarasota permits already have been approved for the work, which is expected to begin after the end of June
After seeing their expansion plans thwarted last year by Laurel Park residents and the Sarasota City Commission, leaders of the Woman’s Exchange are at work on a new initiative to enlarge the nonprofit consignment business.
On May 30, the Exchange announced its intent to purchase the Short Stop Market property located at 521 S. Orange Ave., which is immediately north of its site at 539 S. Orange Ave. in downtown Sarasota. In fact, the two businesses share a common wall, “which will make the much needed expansion of the Exchange’s retail store a somewhat seamless one,” a press release says.
Responding to a Sarasota News Leader request for information
Tim Litchet, director of the City of Sarasota’s Neighborhood & Development Services Department, wrote in a May 31 email that the Woman’s Exchange has applied for three city permits. Two encompass the proposal for the Short Stop property —cutting a hole in the common wall between the consignment store and the market structure to allow for a door. On the Woman’s Exchange side, according to one permit, a roll-up door will be installed. The cost of that work is listed at $10,000 in the permit application.
The total expense of cutting the opening on the Short Stop side will be $5,000, the permit information says, with Southern Cross Contracting the company that will be handling the work.
In regard to the Short Stop site, Litchet wrote in a March 8 note in the permit file that he had been told that all the parking for the drop-off and loading of furniture and other goods “will take place out front in the existing lot that abuts Orange Avenue …”
The third permit covers plans for an employee parking lot at 526 Rawls Ave., behind the Short Stop.
Upon completion of the project involving the Short Stop site, the Woman’s Exchange, which occupies 10,602 square feet of space, will increase to 13,782 square feet of retail space, the nonprofit announced in a May 30 news release. The acquisition also will provide customers with nine extra parking spaces, and the Exchange will “gain increased visibility along Orange Avenue,” the release points out.
“The soon-to-be acquisition of the Short Stop has been a key component” in the Exchange’s long-term strategic plan, the press release says. “It is the final piece that fills out the boundaries of the Exchange’s existing property, giving the Exchange more than a half city block in downtown Historic Burns Court, previously known as Herald Square,” the release adds.
Robert Lincoln, the attorney for the Woman’s Exchange, told the News Leader in a May 31 telephone interview said the plans for the Short Stop property essentially will entail what the Exchange had hoped to do on Rawls Avenue — create a new loading and unloading area and increase of the size of the furniture showroom. If all goes well, he continued, the Exchange will start work on the project after the June 30 closing of the Short Stop.
The permit application for the Rawls Avenue parking area lists that expense at $20,000. “Parking will be limited to use by staff of the Woman’s Exchange as pursuant to letter dated May 23, 2017,” the permit notes.
In his May 31 email, Litchet told the News Leader he had signed off on the new permits from a zoning perspective. The March 3 applications for the connecting door show both were issued on April 7.
The Rawls Avenue parking lot construction permit application was submitted to the city on May 18, that document says.
Sherrie Brooker, an administrative specialist for the City of Sarasota who handles all the records for the Building Department, told the News Leader on June 1 that it typically takes four to five weeks for a permit to be approved. The Rawls Avenue parking proposal is under review by the city’s Engineering and Plans departments, she added.
Past and present Rawls Avenue plans
In the fall of 2015, the Woman’s Exchange received city staff administrative approval for a 3,524-square-foot expansion on the Rawls Avenue parcel. However, because the proposal entailed a loading zone to assist with the nonprofit’s growing furniture consignment business, the Laurel Park Neighborhood Association (LPNA) objected to it. Many residents voiced concern that truck traffic on Rawls would pose a hazard to the numerous people who routinely walk, bike and push baby carriages along the street, because of the lack of sidewalks in the immediate vicinity. An abundance of new construction in the surrounding area exacerbated their concerns about the potential for hazards to pedestrians on Rawls, they stressed.
Exchange leaders provided demonstrations for city staff and agreed to a number of stipulations to ease residents’ worries. Nonetheless, the LPNA challenged the administrative decision that led to the issuance of a building permit for the Rawls Avenue expansion.
Although the residents group lost at the city Planning Board level, it appealed to the City Commission to stop the project. In a 3-2 vote on April 11, 2016, the commissioners agreed with the LPNA. Commissioners Suzanne Atwell and Liz Alpert supported the Exchange’s position, while Mayor Willie Shaw, Vice Mayor Shelli Freeland Eddie and Commissioner Susan Chapman sided with residents.
In a June 1 telephone interview, Alice Sundstrom, president of the Laurel Park Neighborhood Association, told the News Leader that with use of a loading zone off Orange Avenue, “that solves the problem [for the Exchange] as well as maintaining the safety of Rawls Avenue.”
Still, “we’re very sorry to see the Short Stop leaving the neighborhood,” Sundstrom said.
Regarding the plans for employee parking only on Rawls Avenue, she pointed out, “that limits the trips; that limits a lot of our concerns about safety. I think that’s a solution that really makes that a win-win.”
Sundstrom added, “I am happy that the Woman’s Exchange is going to stay in this area.”
A historical presence
The Woman’s Exchange, which has called Burns Court home for more than 50 years, “is one of only two independently listed buildings on the National Historic Register and a key contributing structure to the Laurel Park Historic Neighborhood,” the May 30 news release notes. As the original site of the Sarasota Herald-Tribune, the release continues, the structure “was one of the first 10 … identified by city staff to exemplify the history of our community. Much of the existing structure has remained intact since it was first built in the 1920’s,” the release adds.
Based on inventory sold, the Woman’s Exchange “has donated more than $8 million in grants and scholarships,” the release says, and it “is one of the largest consignment stores in the country.”
The increased space resulting from the expansion into the Short Stop building will enable the Exchange to enlarge its jewelry and ladies departments and include children’s and men’s wear, the release points out.
Since the Woman’s Exchange has no desire to compete with the very organizations it is dedicated to supporting financially, the release adds, “a capital campaign will not be established. All monies needed to support this [expansion] will be earned through the organization’s consignment operation,” the release says. “It is also the intent of the board of directors to maintain [its] current level of financial support of $250,000 or more annually” for arts and scholarships, the release notes.
Just two weeks ago, the nonprofit announced that it was awarding a total of $250,000 this year to support the arts in the community. Eighteen arts and cultural organizations and 24 students are the beneficiaries of those awards.
The nonprofit’s press release concludes, “You can help support the Woman’s Exchange by simply turning the act of shopping into an act of generosity as the money earned will go toward supporting the arts of our community as well as the capital purchase of the Short Stop.”
The Short Stop
As for the Short Stop: At 6:48 a.m. on May 30, it announced on its Facebook page that it would be closing at the end of June “after 50 years of serving this community …”
The post adds, “[W]e have truly enjoyed tempting you with our pastries, gourmet sandwiches, home cooked meals and of course the largest selection of fine wines and craft beers.”
The store is open seven days a week, the Facebook page notes.
The Sarasota County Property Appraiser’s Office record for the property at 521 S. Orange Ave. says the Molavi Corp. bought it on Feb. 15, 2002 for $500,000. In 2016, the 9,587 square feet of land was valued at $378,000, while the one-story convenience store building — constructed in 1967 — was valued at $217,700.
The principal of the Molavi Corp. is Davoud Molavi, who lists 521 S. Orange Ave. as his address, according to the Florida Division of Corporations. Incorporated in January 2002, the company originally listed its office mailing address as 1850 Providence Lakes Blvd. in Brandon.