No, it’s not the quiet generated by the fact the elections are finally over. (Thank the heavens above!) It’s the sound you probably barely heard, that’s the sound of many of the island’s businesses closing their doors and locking their locks for the last time and closing forever. And the list gets longer every month. Don’t forget the sound of moving vans carrying the belongings of former residents who are leaving “Paradise,” or to many of us who are still here, affectionately known as “The Rock,” to greener and less expensive pastures.
What the heck is happening? Don’t tell me you haven’t noticed. Many of my friends have relocated to Naples, or worse to the beyond where you fall off the edge of the Earth…some unknown and desolate places known as Kentucky or Tennessee.
I had a new customer express her feelings about recently building a new house here on the island. Had she and her husband known that their monthly water bill was comparable to purchasing a truckload of bottled Perrier spring water, and then their first electric bill was four times more than “Up North,” they never would have built here. I still haven’t gotten an intelligent answer as to why the folks on Isles of Capri or Naples pay a fraction of what we pay for our tasty and fresh (really?) water.
It’s all been happening in a supposedly improving economy. My business numbers, and I’m sure others, were actually better during the height of the recession and BP oil spill combined. (I wasn’t eligible for a check when BP was dolling out gobs of apology money.)
The summers have always been tough on the island. The snowbirds have long flown the coop, so I guess there are more businesses than there are people on the island. The result of that is retailers all have to tough it out with give-the-store-away summer sales, and restaurants try to attract business with two for one dinner specials and wine giveaways. And that may just barely pay the bills for that month.
Now that I have been in business on Marco for over 23 years, I realized now why it had the reputation back in the 90s of being called “Mark-up Island.” All the business owners had to reap in the dough either by hook or by crook as much as they could during busy season to survive the 4 or 5 months of “off season.” It was that simple. I condemned the practice. Many businesses did it, many didn’t. I personally never had it in my DNA to overcharge anyone and still don’t.
After being established on the island for ten years things were going well and my jewelry store business grew in leaps and bounds, so I thought in 2007 I would branch out and start a retail gift and clothing empire (which by the way failed miserably. Maybe it was the lack of a certain DNA thing?). After all the dust cleared, luckily my jewelry biz survived the recession and is now doing as well as can be expected, the future will always tell. I accepted the fact my branching out empire was a financial disaster, but it was not a failure to me, it was just a case of bad timing.
Any entrepreneur takes chances. It can be a huge success or bring bruises and black eye or two, and then one moves on…an expensive lesson learned.
Many entrepreneurs I have spoken to said they would avoid opening a business here because the current city government is not business friendly. I personally encountered idiotic codes and senseless regulations. I was told I had to install overhead fire extinguisher heads in my ladies boutique changing stalls???? I checked every ladies clothing store on Marco, not one had such a senseless set up. What the heck??? Was the friction of trying on a dress that’s too small going to start a raging store fire or will my customer start a fire and make a hot lunch in a ½ door stall while trying on dresses??? I was told no sprinklers, no permit, and then the official (who is now deceased) had the audacity to give me his friend’s business card, who just so happens to be in the sprinkler business. (I tore up the card and called another company.)
A week later and $3,000 poorer, I had a working shower system in my changing stalls, “pass the soap please; let me get your back.” And don’t get me going about “mandatory improvements” on my non-public lavatory. I was held up for months for no apparent reason having to pay expensive mall rent during the constant hold ups and I still had no occupancy permit to open my door for business.
Later, much later, I finally got my permit to open, but not before I cleaned out my accounts and nearly went out of business before I even opened the doors.
And that was just my experience nine years ago, and to quote Mr. D. Trump “I’m hearing things are not much better for new business prospects even at this time.”
My point of the moment is if the islanders don’t support our local businesses there will be few to patronage at the current rate we are going at. The city’s powers that be should embrace new business, not make it nearly impossible to open one here. Medals should be given to the business owners that cut through the city’s red tape and jump through hoop after flaming hoop to get their American dream business off the ground. Medals should also be awarded to current island business owners, who had to make sacrifices to survive the worst economic times this island has ever seen.
I apologize for not talking about jewelry, and as usual I may have kicked a hornet’s nest here…so be it. This needed to be said and brought to attention of who knows, maybe a city councilor or two. I’m sure many of you who read this may not agree with me, especially those that work in city hall. Which reminds me of a run-down mall on the island that went through city hall hell to renovate and make it what it is today, Ok I’ll even name it…the old Mission Plaza that is now Marco Walk, the hypocrites who blocked all means of progress, and believe me it’s a miracle it even exists, now sit in that popular night spot sipping on martinis enjoying its ambiance. And there is the exact spot where I had my permit experiences, it cost me many gray hairs, a case of high blood pressure and the depletion of my funds in certain off shore bank accounts ?. Stupid, groundless codes and unnecessary expenses demanded for potential new businesses will not help this island in the least, they will and have forced many to pull the plug and open up elsewhere.
Why does it have to be so difficult to do business here? Mandatory expensive grease traps for sandwich shops and even a coffee shop that does not even use a fryer or produce waste oil, utter NONSENSE! That just came down recently…I know many island food establishments will agree with me here, otherwise…Keep listening to the sound!
The recent openings of off island “discount mills” and chain restaurants have many islanders and visitors crossing over the bridge and spending there. I shiver to think what this will do in the months to come. It will certainly have a seriously even more negative effect on many businesses here on the island.
Support your local businesses. Most owners live here, most owners patronage each other. They are your friends and neighbors. You may even share space with to them in your place of worship.
Richard Alan, owner of The Harbor Goldsmith of Marco Island