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Owner of Bookmark Cafe in Largo Public Library appeals for lower rent

City leaders are talking about lowering the rent for a struggling cafe at Largo Public Library.

But the owner of the Bookmark Cafe, Dalal Mansour, says the amounts leaders are tossing about aren't low enough.

Mansour's rent is $1,638 a month.

The city staff is comparing her to the restaurant at Largo Golf Course, where monthly rent is $1,000. She feels she should be compared to the cafe at Clearwater's Main Library, where monthly rent is about $500.

"I don't think it's fair," said Mansour, 47. "They cannot match me with the golf course. They have wine. They have beer. They have hamburgers and french fries."

Mansour's cafe doesn't serve wine or beer. Nor does it have a full-service grill or stove like the golf course cafe. The Bookmark Cafe serves pastries, sandwiches, coffee and other beverages.

Commissioner Robert Murray seemed to echo some of Mansour's sentiments at a city workshop last week.

With an extensive menu and alcohol, Murray said, "there's so much more potential at the Golf View (Cafe) to make money."

Commissioner Mary Gray Black agreed.

A few other city leaders, including Mayor Pat Gerard, felt it was fair to compare the golf course and library cafes, especially since the library has as many as 1,900 patrons a day and the golf course averages about 200.

"We're willing to give them a break, well below what I think the market value is," said Commissioner Woody Brown, who thought $1,000 a month seemed reasonable.

Commissioners are set to vote on her rent at Tuesday's city meeting.

Several months ago, Largo gave the Golf View Cafe owners a break and reduced the rent to its current rate.

Mansour said there's another reason her business and Golf View Cafe are nothing alike: clientele.

Most people come to the library to check out or return free books, Mansour said. They're not planning to spend money and likely had coffee at home. People who go to the golf course expect to pay to play, she said.

At a workshop last week, city commissioners mentioned figures from $850 to $1,000 a month. Mansour feels $500 or $600 is more realistic.

Murray said the city shouldn't pick a figure out of the air. He wanted the rent calculated based on concrete information.

Assistant City Manager Henry Schubert told commissioners Mansour should pay more than the cafe at Clearwater's downtown library. She's in a better location, near the entrance of the library, he said. She also has better furnishings and her sales are more than twice that of the Clearwater cafe. Mansour's sales range from $4,200 to $4,900 most months, he said.

Mansour, a single mother with three children ages 11, 12 and 13, said the economy has walloped her business. And she has expenses well beyond rent. She has one part-time employee she pays $1,000 a month. She also spends about $2,000 a year on licenses and insurance. And that doesn't take into account the amount she pays for supplies.

She hasn't taken a paycheck for herself for three months, she said, and recently borrowed $10,000 from family to buy merchandise and pay the city rent.

Owner of Bookmark Cafe in Largo Public Library appeals for lower rent 03/14/09 [Last modified: Saturday, March 14, 2009 4:31am]

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