Geoff Oldfather: English-speaker says landlord's message is clear
By Geoff Oldfather (Contact)
Sunday, August 5, 2007
Tom McKenna is a longtime Stuart businessman who speaks only English.
He says that's why he's being kicked out of the storefront on South Dixie Highway where he has run Seacoast Water Care for seven years.
"I don't know how else to put it," said McKenna, 51.
I'm not sure I do either.
On July 5 — the day after Independence Day — McKenna received a letter from landlord Ivan Munroe telling him to consider another location.
Munroe said in his letter he wants to have "quality tenants serving the Spanish need in the area."
"I guess I don't serve the 'Spanish need,' whatever that means," McKenna said.
"I have plenty of Spanish-speaking workers come in here to buy water for their landscaping crews," he said. "And people in the neighborhood use the vending machines out front to fill their water bottles for their homes."
The building is on the east side of Dixie Highway, south of Indian Street in Golden Gate. Directly south of McKenna's store, across Southeast Ellendale Street, is a Texaco gas station where men, most of whom speak primarily Spanish, gather to wait for someone to hire them for day labor.
The population of the Golden Gate neighborhood east of McKenna's store also has become mostly Spanish-speaking.
To McKenna, that's irrelevant, as it should be. A customer is a customer is a customer.
But all the signs for the check-cashing store and the Mexican restaurant that share the building with McKenna are in Spanish.
Apparently the signs for Seacoast Water Care don't fit in. They're in English.
Munroe pretty much admitted that's one of the reasons he wants McKenna to move.
"I can have a vision, can't I? And his business just doesn't fit there," Munroe said. "He's not a good tenant, that's my opinion. He's been late on the rent."
Munroe said he had other problems with McKenna: a forklift that was never moved from the front of the store and salt and other supplies in messy piles in an unprotected side yard facing Dixie Highway.
But what Munroe said about prospective tenants is the real clincher.
"Mexican people come in, you know they're going to stay. You know they're going to pay the rent," Munroe said.
I guess seven years in the same location isn't staying power.
And as far as the rent goes, don't rent to mainly English-speaking guys like McKenna — if you follow Munroe's business model.
Munroe is a private business owner, and he can do anything he wants with his property including fulfill his "vision."
But there's a double standard, and I don't think Munroe is a villain as much as he's the symptom of a bigger societal ill: Try telling a minority business owner to leave so you can bring in a quality tenant to serve the need of the English-speaking population.
You'd have activists organizing protests so quick it'd make the annual snowbird migration seem slow.
McKenna said it's going to cost between $10,000 and $15,000 to move — assuming he can even find another storefront in 30 days.
And he knows he's going to lose some of the customers he's served for seven years.
I asked him why he didn't get an attorney and fight.
"After this? I don't want to be here," McKenna said.
I don't blame him.
That's Stuart, FL. The Queen of Seoul (hereafter the QoS) and I worked a month there including New Years 1990. I recall steak houses and a fondue restaurant with nary a tortilla in sight. Whitebread and aging, the NYs party ended at 12:30 (earliest ever).