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Largo dispenses dollop of sympathy for struggling library cafe owner

Bookmark Cafe owner Dalal Mansour pays the city about $1,750 per month. Most days, she brings in less than $100, she says. Mansour contends she may have to quit the business. “It’s just not worth it.”

SCOTT KEELER | Times

Bookmark Cafe owner Dalal Mansour pays the city about $1,750 per month. Most days, she brings in less than $100, she says. Mansour contends she may have to quit the business. “It’s just not worth it.”

City leaders are split on whether they want to give the cafe owner at Largo's library a break on rent after learning she has been struggling to keep her business afloat.

At Tuesday's city meeting, some commissioners were sympathetic, saying they would like to see the owner's monthly rent cut significantly or at least reviewed.

Others weren't sure why the issue was discussed at all because Bookmark Cafe owner Dalal Mansour didn't approach the city staff directly about her dilemma.

"I don't even understand why we're even having this conversation, having no request from the owner," Commissioner Woody Brown said after a staff report on the matter.

A few months ago, Commissioner Mary Gray Black asked the city to review its contract with the Bookmark Cafe at Largo Public Library. Mansour had shared her business woes with Black, a cafe regular. She also did so with Commissioner Rodney Woods.

At Tuesday's meeting, Black and Commissioner Harriet Crozier proposed major rent reductions.

Mayor Pat Gerard didn't propose a cut, but said Mansour's rent should definitely be reviewed. "I'd like to see us take a good look at what we're charging her and make sure it's fair," Gerard said.

Mansour, who bought the business in 2006, pays the city $1,752 per month. Most days, she brings in less than $100, said Mansour, who did not attend the meeting because her daughter was sick.

The city of Clearwater charges the cafe owner at Clearwater Main Library $500 a month rent and 5 percent of whatever the owner makes monthly after the first $2,000.

Black, who said she was surprised at the amount of Mansour's rent, suggested that the city charge her $500 a month.

Crozier suggested charging her about $1,000.

Tuesday afternoon, while Mansour whipped up a vanilla latte, library bookstore volunteer Becky Leo said she planned to call the mayor to see if Mansour's rent could be cut.

A similar plea came from a group of 15 cafe patrons who live at Palms of Largo and e-mailed the city Saturday. Mansour, who they call "Dee," knows them by name and goes out of her way to accommodate them, even buying a cake for a member of the group when she celebrated her 90th birthday, they said.

Library director Casey McPhee said $500 was too low for prime space in a library with 1,800 visitors a day. She also said the owner has had challenges marketing her business.

"I'd like there to be motivation on the part of the business owner to be successful," McPhee said.

After a half-hour of discussion, city leaders directed the city staff to meet with Mansour and report back to them again.

Largo dispenses dollop of sympathy for struggling library cafe owner 01/20/09 [Last modified: Tuesday, January 20, 2009 9:30pm]
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