The business community suffered a major setback Wednesday night.  The Planning Commission voted 3-2 to uphold an appeal that will deny the applicant (Walgreens) a permit to sell beer and wine.  City Staff recommended that the Commission vote down the appeal because the applicant met all necessary criteria to obtain such a permit.  Over 60 businesses in the Middle Keys currently hold a permit to sell beer and wine.

The overall issue here transcends Walgreens, the people supporting the project, and those that oppose it.  The bigger issue is that of free enterprise and a business’ right to compete based on rules set forth for all market participants.  As a City, are we going to set a precedent that discriminates against certain businesses?  Is our local government willing to uphold free enterprise?  Why would we not want new businesses to come into our community and invest monies to rebuild a derelict building, create jobs for locals, and add products and services for locals and visitors?

At the Wednesday Planning Commission meeting there was overwhelming support for this new business from our citizens and business owners and executives; in fact there was not one person that publicly spoke against this new business except the individual that filed the objection. 

We have all seen this occur elsewhere in the Keys. The City of Key West recently had to pay $8 million in taxpayer dollars to settle a lawsuit brought forward by a business that was denied its right to compete fairly in the marketplace. The Village of Islamorada’s restrictive Formula Restaurant and Formula Retail ordinances were struck down in Federal Court after a lengthy (and costly) legal battle, ironically, over whether a Walgreen’s store could open in an existing building. Marathon’s taxpayers can not afford to pay the costs of lawsuits arising from similar actions by our appointed and elected officials.

As many of you have heard, the Marathon Chamber and City of Marathon will partner up for a new exciting program called The Red Carpet Tours; which is designed to market, attract and recruit new businesses and investment into our community.  The City Council unanimously agreed on a 5-0 vote to work with the Chamber on this important and aggressive initiative and we could not be more pleased!

Regarding the Chamber & City’s Red Carpet Tours Program; how can the Chamber and City bring new businesses into Marathon if a new business (Walgreens) has met all the criteria needed and still is denied the right to a permit most businesses can attain?  It would be embarrassing to successfully attract a new business into our town, to then have it unfairly restricted from engaging in free market competition.

This is a perfect example of a new business that wishes to build, add jobs, services, and improve/beautify our infrastructure and is the main premise of the Red Carpet Tours Program.  The Marathon Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors fully supports this project and any new business (within City building codes/ordinances) that wishes to invest and enter our local community. We are expecting our City Council to once again vote unanimously in favor of allowing this business the necessary permits to do its business and thus remain consistent in their desire to add new business and industry to Marathon and help improve our local economy.

The Greater Marathon Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors

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