St. Pete continues to wrestle with possible restrictions in shopping district

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St. Pete is continuing its push to preserve some of its most unique shopping districts.

Central Avenue and Beach Drive are known for small businesses that carry many local products. Some worry those small shops could be overtaken by large chains.

In response, the city is taking a new approach to try and restrict big business from coming into those areas.

When it comes to protecting the local vibe of Central Avenue and Beach Drive, St. Pete has gone from possibly saying “absolutely no chain restaurants and franchises” to “OK, you can have chains, but they can’t look like chains.”

Many store owners say they who are fearful their mom-and-pop-style stores could be driven away as the area grows and the rent goes up.

More than a year ago, St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman marched down central pledging to keep chains away.

He says he still wants to do that, though scaled back, through something called the Storefront Conservation Corridor.

“We can’t ban [chain stores], and we are not going to,” Kriseman said. “I don't want the city to get sued.”

The answer, Kriseman says, is strict design requirements for any chain wishing to open up in the area.

First, the city says the storefront would have to be small. For some chains, like Walmart or Target, that may be all it takes to keep them uninterested.

But for chains like Maple Street Biscuit Company, which recently opened a location in the area, the size requirement fits their existing style.

While business owners remain split on what the requirements should be, the mayor hopes city council will take up the issue before the end of the year.