Editorial: A smart plan for helping mom-and-pops

St. Petersburg would limit the size of storefronts on two commercial corridors
The Maple Street Biscuit Company opened in April on the 600 block of Central Avenue. [SCOTT KEELER   |   Times]
The Maple Street Biscuit Company opened in April on the 600 block of Central Avenue. [SCOTT KEELER | Times]
Published November 9 2018

St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman has rolled out a revised proposal for protecting locally owned businesses along Beach Drive and Central Avenue. Unlike last year’s first attempt, this effort shows real promise for helping small business owners while protecting landlords’ property rights and avoiding interfering with the free market.

In 2017, Kriseman approached the issue from the wrong angle: by attempting to ban chain stores from Beach Drive and Central Avenue between the waterfront and 31st Street. It would have required chains — including locally owned ones — to apply for a variance, which left the process open to arbitrary interpretation and didn’t address the biggest threat to mom-and-pop shops, which is rising rents, not the specter of a big box store moving in.

To his credit, Kriseman started with a clean slate and talked to business owners and landlords about their concerns. What resulted is the “Storefront Conservation Corridor Plan,” which limits the number of medium and large storefronts on each block of Central and Beach, based on current ratios.

This approach doesn’t outright ban chain stores but makes it less attractive for, say, Starbucks to move in where it will be limited to a small space. On the other hand, that’s an upside to a local coffee shop that can’t afford rent on a huge space. And the plan could indirectly encourage growth on sleepier stretches, such as First avenues North and South and 16th Street, that could use the economic boost of a major restaurant or retailer.

The distinct mix of shops, bars and restaurants on Beach Drive and Central Avenue are undoubtedly an asset worth preserving and protecting. Kriseman’s new proposal is solid step in that direction.