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Pinellas County deputies discovering several business not following county order, trying to find loopholes

Posted at 6:19 PM, Apr 03, 2020

Editors Note—
Previous versions of this story featured an image of a business. In using the picture we were not implying the business was out of compliance. In fact, they are in compliance.

PINELLAS COUNTY, Fla. — Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri is warning nonessential businesses that refuse to shut down.

On Thursday, county commissioners unanimously passed an order to close down all nonessential businesses as a way to adhere to the Governor's statewide safer-at-home order.

Friday morning, the local order went into effect but deputies have noticed several businesses are not listening.

In a press conference, Gualtieri blasted Tobacco Depot on McMullen Booth Road in Clearwater. He said his deputies found the shop open in spite of the new order. Inside the shop, deputies noticed a display of jerky, cereal, chips and other snacks. The sheriff says this shows some shop owners are not getting it.

While food service businesses like restaurants, grocery stores, food banks and convenience stores are considered essential, simply offering some snacks and beverages doesn't cut it.

The sheriff urges those looking for a loophole to "stop playing games."

“They claim now that they are a food service business. It doesn’t work that way and people really need to stop doing this sort of thing because that’s detrimental," said Sheriff Gualtieri.

Within the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office, there are now 20 deputies designated to compliance teams. Our cameras were rolling when one of them discovered a vape shop in Largo completely open. The owner expressed confusion over the order to the deputy asking him to shut down. The owner erroneously believing selling CBD oil and other such products made the smoke shop an essential service.

ABC Action News found several stores like furniture and hobby shops still open. On Thursday night, Pinellas County created a list naming categories of shops that are deemed non-essential and, therefore, must close. They include but are not limited to:

  1. Acupuncture (unless service is under the care of a medical provider)
  2. Antique stores
  3. Auction houses
  4. Automotive tint, wash, detail, and accessory businesses
  5. Beauty supply stores
  6. Bookstores
  7. Clothing and shoe retail, rental, or consignment Craft, art, and hobby supply stores
  8. Day/Beauty spas, hair or nail salons, and barber shops
  9. Décor and Lighting sales businesses
  10. Entertainment establishments
  11. Florist businesses
  12. Fitness, Dance, Pilates, and Yoga studios and gyms
  13. Jewelry stores and jewelry repair businesses
  14. Massage (unless service is under the care of a medical provider)
  15. Music and instrument stores; music lesson providers
  16. Museums
  17. Optical retail stores (non-prescription)
  18. Painting, craft, or art studios
  19. Pet grooming businesses (including mobile and those co-located with pet retail stores)
  20. Pet sales and adoptions (excluding on premises animal care)
  21. Smoke, tobacco, CBD, or vape stores
  22. Spa sales businesses
  23. Sporting goods sales and repair businesses
  24. Stereo installation and sales businesses
  25. Tattoo and piercing services
  26. Toy retail stores, game, or amusement rental businesses
  27. Vitamin stores (unless service is under the care of a medical provider)

The types of businesses that are considered essential could come as a surprise to some.

“A pawnshop; the reason for that is that they sell guns and also do loans which makes them a financial place," said Gualtieri.

The sheriff says on Friday they got clarification from the governor’s office. This comes after mass confusion following the state safer-at-home order.

“The governor’s order sets the floor but not the ceiling as to what local government can do," he said.

Meaning, the county can be more restrictive but not less. The sheriff says he doesn’t want to be forced to fine businesses or even criminally charge owners but he can. Gualtieri says the county administrator has the power to order any type of business be closed if they don’t comply.

If you see a business or people that aren't complying with the county's orders you can call the tip line at 727-582-TIPS (8477)