On US 1 a seemingly innocent sign beckons drivers and bicyclists to drop in for a bite: “Espresso Bake Shop Sandwiches.” The portable sign in front of the Sugarloaf Food Company is ultimately what caused Kerry Chelm to ride his bicycle 25 miles from the Westin for a savory lunch.
“I saw the sign one day, and ventured in,” the Cleveland man casually mentioned.
According to Sugarloaf Bakery owner Anne Rodamer, riding a bike across the scenic Overseas Highway is as ‘Keysy’ as Key Lime Pie, but in Monroe County, portable signage that attracts locals and visitors alike is illegal. County Code Enforcement officials recently conducted a sweep and issued a whopping 150 citations to business owners, leaving a sour taste for government in this baker’s mouth.
“I took my sign down to comply and it made a difference of $300 to $500 a day in business,” said Rodamer. Recently, she and other business owners feeling the same pain took action.
“We went to the County Commissioners and told them what was going on, and they put a stop to it for six months and told the County Code Enforcement to lay off.”
At Wednesday night’s Lower Keys Chamber of Commerce meeting at the SugarLoaf Lodge Restaurant and Tiki Bar, County Administrator, Roman Gastesi, Jr., answered to an angry audience of private business owners including, Rodamer, Boondocks’ Lanny Gardner, and private contractor Dan Lesley among dozens of others. Rodamer is anxious to know why Monroe County seems to be, “anti-small business.” Sentiments echoed by Lesley, a forty year Keys resident.
“Destroying a business destroys a community,” Lesley cried out. “The County would rather see a home raised and the Keys go back to the mangroves. Somebody needs to pull the reigns in on this.”
Lesley continued to fire off his feelings regarding County sign codes saying, “It’s almost Gestapo tactics. It is almost a criminal agency.”
“Out of control” and “beserk” are two more key phrases Lesley didn’t hesitate to throw out in a crowded room to make his points clear.
“It’s a big issue. It might be time to carve something out, and put it under me,” Gastesi offered.
Gardner said to his fellow chamber members and Gastesi that it seems the County and DOT have an axe to grind and are taking their frustrations out on business owners. He purchased the property for his signage from the DOT and, “to secure the money, we had to beg and borrow from our friends. I sure hope Annie (Rodamer) doesn’t have to go through that.”
Rodamer plans to do whatever it takes to keep the Sugarloaf Bakery sign strategically placed, and as a small business owner, she only asks for the cost to be fair.
“One hundred fifty citations given, from each of those people, at $100 each? That’s a lot of money,” she said of the recent signage sweep.
The ladder of her options is clear – buy some land off the DOT, take the citations or turn off the ovens leaving vacationers like Chelm with one fewer place to visit on his Keys vacation.
“The bakery-sandwich shop is terrific. Today I’m having a veggie sandwich and chocolate chip cookies. Then I’ll cycle back to MM 0,” Chelm said.