The deal the Flagler Beach City Commission appears to have worked out with Ray Barshay, the prospective new owner of the Pier Restaurant, nearly unraveled late Thursday evening over the future of the Bait and Tackle Shop.
Barshay isn’t much interested in that shop. But it’s part of the Pier Restaurant lease. The city insisted on keeping part of the lease in the proposed arrangement with Barshay. Barshay said he would give it a try, as long as the city made a huge concession: the city would keep paying all the costs of the Bait and Tackle Shop for a year. Those costs include the salaries of the toll-takers who walk onto the pier and the bathroom cleaners, which amount to about $60,000 a year. The city would also defray up to half Barshay’s costs on the shop in the second year. Beyond that, the future of that arrangement is unclear. It’s a risky proposition for both sides. But it was the only way to keep the larger deal on the restaurant from falling apart.
That almost happened anyway.
The new commission, with Kim Carney and Marshall Shupe replacing Ron Vath and Joy McGrew, had been sworn in and seated earlier Thursday, at 4:30 p.m. After 10 p.m., the commission was done with its business, short of acting City Manager Bruce Campbell’s portion of the meeting. He had a simple question about how to deal with inquiries from other prospective shop owners interested in running the Bait and Tackle Shop, which has been vacant, and costing the city, since last year. Six individuals or groups of individuals have shown some interest, but only one of those–the owners of the BeachHouse Beanery–had been willing to take on the Bait and Tackle Shop along with its other responsibilities (the toll-takers, the bathroom).
Commissioner Steve Settle suggested breaking the Bait and Tackle Shop out of the lease proposal with Barshay, and inviting others interested in running it to make formal proposals. Mayor Alice Baker was interested in the idea, because, like Settle, she was displeased with Barshay’s lackluster interest in the Bait and Tackle Shop. Why not turn it over to business owners willing to put their all in it? That idea briefly gained momentum. But it would have represented a significant change in the proposed lease, which the city is submitting to Barshay Monday. Not just a change: it would have been an entirely different proposal.
Commissioner Jane Mealy was incensed. “I don’t care for what just happened,” she said, disbelieving that after months of agonizing negotiations over every line in the lease with Barshay, including hours of discussion about the Bait and Tackle Shop, the commission was suddenly, and in Barshay’s absence, changing course. “Now, without him here, we’re making a change to that. I don;t think that’s fair, and I don’t think that’s good business practice.”
Mealy’s intervention worked. The discussion about breaking out the Bait and Tackle shop was shelved, for now. And the proposed lease will go to Barshay mostly as he expected it, based on the last negotiating session.
As it turns out, Mealy’s intervention was wise beyond the matter of good business practices. Much of that last-minute discussion about the Bait and Tackle shop had been predicated on the possibility of having a more interested local owner taking over. But the one set of business owners who’d spoken of willingly taking over all the Bait and Tackle Shop’s operations–Jeff and Carol Fisher of the Beanery–have backed off anyway.
Carol Fischer said two to three weeks ago they’d spoken with the city and Barshay about assuming the shop, selling bait and tackle there, but also selling other things such as t-shirts, key chains, hats and the like, since selling only bait stuff would not make enough money. Being in the shop would have also given the Fishers a presence at the pier, and a way to lift the profile of the Beanery. Barshay didn’t like the idea, seeing any such operation in the shop as competition–an attitude that contrasts sharply with Fisher’s own assessment of Barshay taking over the Pier Restaurant. A well-run restaurant, Fisher said last month, “is only going to be good for all of us. It’s going to mean more people.”
“It just ended up getting kind of more complicated than we thought it would be worth,” Fisher said on Friday. “It seemed pretty obvious that you can’t just sell bait and make money at that space, so our options of other things to sell, it just didn’t seem to be agreeable to Ray, so we didn’t take it any further than that. Maybe this wasn’t a good idea. So we just backed off.” The prospect of negotiating a lease separately with the city, over many hours, as Barshay did, was unappealing, Fisher said, considering the time it would take away from running her own business.
In the end, the Fishers decided to wait and see how the lease between Barshay and the city would work out, leaving a door open to possibly leasing the Bait and Tackle Shop down the line directly from Barshay. Even that idea, floated to Barshay, got no nibble.
For now, however, the deal between Barshay and the city appears still on course. It can yet change.