TAMPA — Susan Long worried that the exemption for street-corner newspaper sales would water down Tampa's new panhandling ban.
So the neighborhood activist says she wasn't surprised when homeless vendors hit intersections again Tuesday — this time to sell the first issue of Bill Sharpe's street newspaper.
"It's a whole gap in the defense," said Long, "and he ran right through it."
The Tampa Epoch, a monthly newspaper focusing on poverty and homelessness, is aimed at helping many of the homeless people who had depended on panhandling to earn extra cash.
Though only about 30 homeless vendors sold papers Tuesday, Sharpe hopes to hire 100 people during the next few months. To sustain the operation for the long run, he said he'll need to sell at least 20,000 copies a month.
Spencer Kass, president of South Tampa's Virginia Park Neighborhood Association, said the newspaper may be well-intended but reflects an "undermining of the ordinance."
He said he will wait to see how things shake out with the new venture but he expects backlash, including a refusal by people to shop or dine at businesses that advertise in the Tampa Epoch.
"I don't think it's going to be in anybody's business interest to advertise in that paper," said Kass.
Sharpe, also the publisher of the South Tampa Community News, said he expects some angry reactions. But he said he predicts just as much support. A local lawyer has already bought an entire back-page ad for the next issue.
"I probably never made a decision to do something that I feel as good about as I do this one," Sharpe said.
The first issue carries a photograph of Mayor Bob Buckhorn, who is no fan of the venture. He said the Epoch is not a legitimate newspaper but an "excuse to get around an ordinance.
"I think the community spoke loudly and clearly. They don't want the panhandling anymore," he said. "Those who would support this with their advertising dollars are doing a disservice to the greater good."
The first issue of the Epoch also carries stories on interior designers who volunteered to renovate Alpha House of Tampa, a maternity residence for homeless women, as well as listings — and a map — of local service providers.
It has a handful of ads, including a pizza restaurant and a South Tampa fitness center, along with more than 35 sponsors.
Sponsors pay anywhere from $25 to $1,000 to provide each vendor with an initial setup — 25 free newspapers, a T-shirt, name badge and a supervisor.
After that, vendors can buy papers for 25 cents each and keep 75 cents from reselling them for $1.
Vendors sign contracts promising to stay off private property without permission, not sell papers while under the influence of alcohol or drugs, treat motorists with respect and not solicit customers for more than $1.
One of the initial $100 sponsors is Tampa Water Taxi, owned by Larry Salkin.
Salkin said he's watched Sharpe load up a pickup with Christmas toys for poor children. He called him "a dynamic individual who works 26 hours a day doing things not necessarily for himself but for others."
As for whether he might lose business for lending his name to the cause?
"If someone wants to boycott me because I, as a little nobody am doing something that may help somebody less fortunate, well, I don't want you on my boat," he said. "You're not the kind of person I want to show Tampa off to."
Peggy Land, 77, is the sole platinum sponsor listed for the Epoch at $1,000 for the year. At the training event for vendors Tuesday, she met a woman who lives in a camp in the woods. Land ended up promising to bring her a turkey for Thanksgiving.
"I don't understand the lack of compassion I saw from some of the people at City Council," Land said. "It definitely was an image problem."
Times writer Sue Carlton contributed to this report. Reach Jodie Tillman at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 226-3374.