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Merchants Explore New Alliance in Downtown Safety Harbor

A meeting of downtown Safety Harbor merchants took play on Monday, July 20 at the Sandwich on Main.
A meeting of downtown Safety Harbor merchants took play on Monday, July 20 at the Sandwich on Main.

Stop me if you’ve heard this before — business owners in downtown Safety Harbor are banding together to form an alliance that will benefit all the merchants in the area.

If that sentence sounds familiar, it’s because over the course of the past few years, similar organizations have tried, with varied degrees of success, to unite the downtown merchants into an organized unit.

But the newest attempt to form a merchants alliance in downtown Safety Harbor might get more traction than the others, after nearly two dozen local business owners gathered at the Sandwich on Main a couple of weeks ago to discuss forming a new alliance.

“So many people have tried in the past and for whatever reason, it hasn’t worked out,” Mercedes Ofalt, Sandwich on Main owner and a realtor in town, told Safety Harbor Connect.

“I believe the timing is right now, buy everybody has to be ready and willing,” she added. “The mindset now is not as much “me, me, me” and more and more, people want to move forward with this.”

Based on the response to the as-yet-unnamed organization’s first meeting on Monday, July 20, there is plenty of interest in forming a new merchants association.

Tupelo on 4th owner Melissa Haist listens to Downtown Dunedin Merchants Association founder Gregory Brady.
Tupelo on 4th owner Melissa Haist listens to Downtown Dunedin Merchants Association founder Gregory Brady.

Local business owners in attendance included Melissa Haist of Tupelo on 4th; Kip Kelly of the soon-to-open Crooked Thumb Brewery; Michael Hutchings of Edgewater on Main; and Francie Rogal of Francie’s Studio 5th Avenue. Safety Harbor Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Susan Peterson and Safety Harbor Downtown Business Alliance representative Paula Vricos were also present.

After Ofalt made a short introductory speech, Gregory Brady, founder of the Downtown Dunedin Merchants Association, spoke for roughly 45 minutes on the dos and don’ts of forming an alliance.

“The first thing you need to do is get organized,” Brady, who started the highly successful Dunedin merchants group 26 years ago, said. “You need to see who’s willing to put pen to paper and commit money and time to make this work.”

“Your involvement is as important as unlocking your door every day. You all have to be involved in order to make a difference.”

Brady fielded a few questions from the crowd, including: what’s the best way to get the word out about the group (media sponsorships and social media marketing); how to collect proceeds for their cause (host events and charge membership fees); and how to overcome antipathy from merchants who don’t want to join the organization.

“The power is in numbers, so if someone has a problem, they know the merchants association has their back,” he said. “Create a demand and make people want to join.”

He also stressed there needs to be one unified voice speaking for the downtown merchants.

Mercedes Ofalt speaks to a group of downtown Safety Harbor merchants on July 20.
Sandwich on Main owner Mercedes Ofalt speaks to a group of downtown Safety Harbor merchants on July 20.

“The most common thing you’ll hear is “it’s a little confusing to me” with different organizations trying to do essentially the same thing,” he said.

“You have to decide what the main organization is and have one landing place, and then the other organizations can complement the main one.”

After the meeting, Ofalt said Brady’s input was pivotal in getting the Safety Harbor group off the ground.

“His advice was so invaluable,” she said. “If he’s willing to take the time to help a neighboring town to succeed, you would think our own merchants would take the time, too.”

Ofalt added that she understands it’s going to be a long process to get this new downtown merchants association up to the level of Dunedin’s. But she believes the time is right to do it now.

“There are a lot of questions, for sure, but we’re going to move ahead and do it right this time,” she said. “We’re going to be fair and make sure everyone who wants to be involved will be on a positive and progressive path.”

“I think the city is ready, the Chamber is ready, and the whole town is ready for this now.” 

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  1. Safety Harbor should consider property tax penalties for commercial buildings that stay vacant for long periods of time. Many other municipalities do this to successfully to keep errant landlords from affecting the entire business environment of the community. Some also provide tax encentives for those who participate in community based initiatives to spur growth. Retail success requires a concerted effort between city leaders and merchants. It cannot be accomplished one shop at a time.

  2. Been there done that with certain organizations who are asking merchants to pay membership dues which for me is a money trap and little bit of an inconvenience when I get tons of emails asking me to pay $250 to set up a table at Top of the World senior fest in November what nobody wants to accept is I now own 2 condo units and know lots of great home owners who loves and supports my boutique for the last 9 years plus I get many privileges for being a part of the HOA which doesn’t cost me anything so why in Gods green earth would I pay for something that I get for free with monthly HOA fee that I pay in full???
    This is why I support Steve Orlando because he cares about the hard working merchants who are barely making ends meet with his loyalty card program through the Legal Alliance that he started since it started my sales show improvement, so that I was able to donate a beautiful leather jacket worth $350 to the charity challenge that gets all the proceeds from the sale of the loyalty cards, I promise to keep donating for worthy charities through this great Alliance as I see fit providing my sales continue to rise which I believe with all my heart it will continue on this positive path!
    One last thing for the record to all the merchants who are doubting the Alliance’s positive capabilities don’t knock it until you try it instead of forming a new association which by the way is very negative start being a good neighbor by supporting and promoting it, rewards are very impressive if you do!

  3. Finally, Maybe not up to Dunedin’s level but a start in the right direction.
    This would help everyone in business in downtown Safety Harbor! Maybe it could be enough to get some vacant buildings, on Main Street , with renters instead of empty like the past 15 or so years.

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