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City admits contract renewal for cafe at Largo library was not handled properly

Dalal Mansour didn’t want to lose her Bookmark Cafe in the Largo Public Library.

SCOTT KEELER | Times (2009)

Dalal Mansour didn’t want to lose her Bookmark Cafe in the Largo Public Library.

Dalal Mansour has been running the cafe inside Largo's public library for the past four years, often the first person patrons see when they walk through the door.

It's a small business she says she'd like to continue running for years to come — though an issue with her lease with the city threatened to boot the Bookmark Cafe by this summer.

Mansour told the city she wanted to exercise her right to renew her lease for an additional five years, but three weeks past the contract's deadline in October. So city staffers began work on sending out a call for others to take over the business.

"The love and the care and the feeling of the public and the people, the old and the young — I care about them a lot," she said.

English is not her first language, and she was expecting some notice before her renewal date. She did not receive any until it was too late.

But upon hearing about Mansour's troubles, Commissioner Mary Gray Black thought the city wasn't being a good landlord, and asked for the issue to be brought before the commission.

More than one on Tuesday night said the city should have handled the situation better, and directed Assistant City Manager Henry Schubert to not send out a request for proposals seeking a buyer for the cafe.

"I think this is a gotcha. I think we wanted to put this out to bid, therefore we weren't a very courteous landlord," said Mayor Patricia Gerard.

Commissioners Black, Curtis Holmes and Robert Murray voiced their agreement.

After she learned that commissioners would be looking into renewing her contract or negotiating a new one in the coming weeks, Mansour said she was relieved — especially after feeling as if nobody was listening.

Mansour received a letter from Schubert dated Oct. 7, after the deadline: "Is it correct for me to assume that you do not wish to renew the agreement with the city?" She responded soon after that she did want to renew.

Though after repeated calls to the city, Mansour said, nothing came — except another letter in February stating that she must vacate the premises by June 23.

The small cafe, which occupies a nook in the library just inside the entrance, is Mansour's sole source of income. It pays the bills, says the single mother of three young teenagers, and the job gives her the flexibility to pick them up from school.

A former dental hygienist who received a degree from the University of Florida, Mansour, originally from Lebanon, took over to have more time for her children.

While Mansour works every day, she has a part-time employee who helps out.

Rachel Taylor, who was visiting the library with her daughter, Lilly, 2, on Monday afternoon, said she would be displeased if Mansour — and her healthy soups and wraps — had to go.

"Every Friday I have lunch here, and so does she," Taylor said, nodding to her toddler.

"I ate here all the time when I was pregnant," she said.

City admits contract renewal for cafe at Largo library was not handled properly 03/02/10 [Last modified: Tuesday, March 2, 2010 9:40pm]
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