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Priced out: City of St. Pete stepping in to help as businesses face rising rent costs

Commercial rent has doubled and tripled in parts of city
Posted at 7:01 PM, Nov 04, 2019

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — The City of St. Petersburg is stepping in to help local businesses as they face rising rent prices.

Another St. Pete business recently announced they'll soon close their doors for good. Rent prices in the downtown area are skyrocketing as St. Petersburg grows.

City leaders are working on an innovative solution to help small businesses thrive.

Jill Orobello, the owner of Whim So Doodle, A 27-year arts and crafts staple in St. Pete, says she will close the business by the end of December.

“It’s just a big large family here. So it is really sad,” she said.

Orobello is devastated.

“It's been a huge part of my life. I have 6 children. I lost my oldest several years ago and then a few years ago, I suddenly lost my husband. It was my customers and my Whim So Doodle family that helped me get through those times," Orobello said with emotion. "The thing I'll miss most is the relationships."

Her landlord is selling the building on 2nd Avenue South, and although Orobello spent 7 months looking for a place to relocate, she says it is out of the question.

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“We really could not afford now to rent downtown,” she elaborated.

Rent prices in downtown St. Pete have doubled and tripled over the past few years for small businesses.

It's the reason James Ryan moved his Kalamazoo Olive Shop. His business is one of 10 to get grant money from the city to renovate. His landlord was also cut a $10,000 check to keep Ryan's rent down.

"It's a partnership between us and the city. We still had to put a lot of money towards moving and redesigning the new store, but it was critical to keeping us in business in St. Pete," Ryan said. “I can’t tell you how grateful we are to have started our business here, grow our business here and to remain here.”

St. Petersburg's program is the first of its kind in the nation, targeted to keep St. Pete local as the city explodes with growth.

“We don’t want to lose those businesses. We want our small businesses to be able to grow and sustain through this changing dynamic of our cityscape,” Jessica Eilerman, St. Pete's Small Business Manager said.

The first round of grants were snapped up quickly. The city gave out $175,000 to local businesses, but the requests totaled $900,000.

City leaders just approved another $175,000 to help more businesses. Yet, Olga Bof of Keep St. Pete Local says unless more people commit to shopping at small businesses, we'll see more places shut their doors.

“Yes, it may cost you a dollar more, two dollars more, but what we get as a community is priceless,” Bof explained.

Orobello hopes as the city grows, small businesses will be able to stay open and keep the local charm alive.

"We know their kids' names, when they’ve been in the hospital. Those are the kind of relationships you can’t get when you’re shopping online,” she said.

The city's grant program gives money to local businesses to paint, make renovations, upgrade the plumbing and electricity and make other physical improvements to their spaces.