Shopping and dining area finds another hurdle in pandemic
The coronavirus is the latest in a series of blows to tenants of St. Armands Circle in Sarasota.
| 2:00 p.m. August 26, 2020
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Commercial Real Estate
Things are different on St. Armands Circle this year. The outdoor shopping and dining area in Sarasota with about 130 business spaces has seen the inevitable downturn in traffic during the pandemic.
During the summer, traffic would normally be slower since seasonal residents typically arrive in October and leave around Easter, but usually other visitors make up for that. “This time of the year we have a real strong customer base from Canada and from Europe, especially the U.K. and Germany, and we don’t have that this year,” says St. Armands Circle Association Executive Director Diana Corrigan.
While it’s been slower during the day, it has been busier at night, predominantly Thursdays through Sundays or Mondays. But even that’s been a challenge for businesses — do they stay open all day and into the night? Or do they wait to open their doors until 4 p.m.?
For many businesses on the Circle, the pandemic is yet another challenge in a series of recent disruptions, from construction on a recreational trail and nearby roundabouts to red tide to flesh-eating bacteria concerns. (St. Armands Circle is adjacent to Lido Beach, a popular public spot). Then, just as they were trying to catch up from those challenges, the pandemic hit. “Our businesses are not just trying to overcome from losing a season, they’re trying to overcome from last summer and October to January,” says Corrigan. “Sadly, some businesses had no other choice but to close their doors permanently.”
Plus, even though some businesses have closed their doors, the rent clock is still ticking. Corrigan says some of the Circle’s 68 landlords have helped businesses by offering breaks on rent. Others, however, aren’t.
In total, 15 or 16 businesses have closed during the pandemic. The Circle also had eight vacancies before the pandemic, Corrigan says. That puts the current occupancy rate at about 80% to 85%.
Now, the biggest concern is instilling consumer confidence. To that end, signs and posters throughout the area promote mask wearing, and the city provided masks businesses can offer customers. But despite a city ordinance that mandates mask wearing, some people still don't wear them. “There’s only so much we can do,” says Corrigan. “We educate them and have masks available, but we have no way of controlling it.” That’s exacerbating the downturn in business on the Circle, Corrigan says, because when some people see others walking around without masks, they don’t want to come out.
Corrigan thinks the uncertainty of the election year has factored into sales on the Circle, too. “Every time we have an election year and it gets closer to the election, like six months out, people hold steady,” she says. “They aren’t exactly sure what’s going to happen. They don’t make big purchases.”
As the holidays near, Corrigan is hopeful things might get better. “I have a lot of faith in our businesses,” she says. “They’re smart and savvy. I watched a lot of them during the Great Recession. We’re going to get through this. We just need to get to the election.”
St. Armands Circle is trying to encourage traffic and stay top of mind through eblasts, digital advertising and social media. “We’re putting a real heavy push on marketing and promoting to the local market but also the drive market — those one-day, one-tank trips,” she says. The most important message she’s trying to get across now? “To encourage people to shop small and shop local, because they’re helping their neighbors.”