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Longtime Clearwater marina gift shop close to being evicted

CLEARWATER — The Marina Gifts and Souvenirs shop was busy Wednesday morning.

Customers perused racks of T-shirts, shelves of coffee mugs and stacks of postcards.

Between purchases, store manager Judi Boudreau kept returning grimly to her computer, where she watched a replay of the Clearwater City Council on Monday discussing evicting the store from the city-owned marina building on Clearwater Beach.

She didn't like what she was hearing.

"It's been a real situation," said Boudreau, who has worked in the shop for 14 years.

The City Council is scheduled to vote tonight to evict the store from its longtime perch on Causeway Boulevard.

Restaurateur Frank Chivas, the man behind successful restaurants such as Rumba and the Island Way Grill, wants to invest $2.5 million to open a new Mexican cantina that will take up all of the second floor and roof of the marina building. He has also committed to restoring the building to its original 1953 design, which resembled a tugboat.

That means the little gift shop, which Boudreau said has been around for decades, has to go.

"It's sad to do this," she said. "But it's the power of the mighty dollar."

The couple who had owned the shop since the 1990s, George and Dara Greene, signed a lease that was good through September 2014, officials said at a work session Monday. Both of them died within months of each other last year.

Now, the city is arguing that the lease is no longer valid because it was in their name.

Bobbie Zaytoun, the Greenes' daughter, now owns the business with her brother and sister. When her mother died in July, the building owners told her the lease on the shop was good for another couple of years, she said.

A few months ago, she said, they told her to get out.

The building managers threatened to change the locks and block renewal of her employees' parking permits, she said. She has received an eviction notice and has been told to vacate the store by Jan. 30.

"I can't be out by then," said Zaytoun, who lives in Orlando and has two small children.

And she says her attorney told her the lease is valid.

"I'm at my wit's end now because I really don't know what to do anymore," she said. "I lost both my parents in 10 months, they tell me not to worry about it, and then all of a sudden, all this."

City Attorney Pam Akin assured the council that the city has the legal right to evict the store.

According to city documents, Zaytoun requested additional time to sell down the shop's inventory, so the city sent her a Conditional Assignment of Lease and other documents that would have given her until Dec. 31, 2012, to liquidate the store's assets. But the city contends that Zaytoun never returned the documents.

So as far as the city is concerned, the lease terminated when Mrs. Greene died last July.

"If they were to come back with a reasonable time frame that wouldn't affect our development plans, that's something we would discuss," Akin said. "But we have not heard back from them."

Zaytoun said she hasn't heard anything from the council and she wasn't told about the council meeting today. "To be honest, at this point, I don't know what I want to do," she said. "I just want to stop being harassed and being told two different things."

Staff writer Mike Brassfield contributed to this report. Elizabeth Behrman can be reached at (727) 445-4154 or lbehrman@tampabay.com.

Longtime Clearwater marina gift shop close to being evicted 01/16/13 [Last modified: Wednesday, January 16, 2013 6:42pm]
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