ST. PETERSBURG — Another downtown business is closing its doors.
But unlike other businesses that have called it quits, the Full Monty, which sells frozen yogurt in the BayWalk garage building, isn't a casualty of the economy.
Owner Ian Fell, a British citizen, has been unable to get back into the country since he went to London in December for his son's wedding. The U.S. Embassy declared his visa void, even though Fell says he has a stamp that allows him to stay in the United States until September.
So Fell, 55, and his partner Claire Pearce, 51, who stayed behind in St. Petersburg to run the store, have decided to close. The shop's last day is today.
"We have paid city taxes, rent and purchased materials from U.S. suppliers and collected taxes for the Florida Department of Revenue," Fell wrote in an e-mail to the St. Petersburg Times. "Now we are forced to close our business and return to the UK, purely through a technicality with my visa."
Another business in the building, Atlanta Bread Co., closed earlier this month, though a gourmet market has agreed to move into that space. The garage building is owned by the city, but the retail space is managed by Fred Bullard Jr. Another company manages BayWalk's main complex to the north.
After falling in love with St. Petersburg during a vacation, Fell and Pearce bought the shop in 2004. They opened it with an E-2 investment visa, which is renewable after five-years. As a requirement, they had to leave and re-enter the country every few years.
So in September 2008, they went on vacation to Cancun. Upon re-entry, they received stamps on their passports, which they thought extended their visas two years.
But when Fell tried to get on a plane to come back from England, officials didn't allow him to board because his original visa had expired in August. Fell has been stranded since and is staying with relatives.
Immigration lawyer Arturo Rio Jr. said the situation is unfortunate, but the law is clear. While the visa holders are in the U.S., their status is determined by the stamp, which goes on a passport. "But the moment you leave, it's the visa that trumps everything," Rio said.
The couple know it's unlikely they'd be approved for another E-2 visa, which requires that the business provides jobs. The rough economy forced the couple to lay off their employees, Pearce said.
"It's a really silly situation," Pearce said.
They are asking for $50,000 for the business, which Pearce said is about a third of what it's worth.
The couple still have to figure out what to do with the home they bought in the city's Magnolia Heights neighborhood, their cars and everything else they've acquired in the past few years.
"We haven't got a home to go back to in the UK," Pearce said. "Our life is here."