CHOKOLOSKEE — A store can be a national treasure and still go out of business if folks can’t find it.
That’s the situation owners of Smallwood Store Ole Indian Trading Post and Museum found themselves in for the past couple of months.
It’s been partially resolved.
Collier County Code Enforcement staff cited the historic Chokoloskee Island store – open since 1906 and listed on the national register since 1974 – for putting up an off-premise sign. Chokoloskee is on the western edge of the Everglades, about 30 miles southeast of Naples.
Store owner Lynn McMillan, granddaughter of founder Smallwood, recently asked Collier County commissioners for help.
There’s no way a visitor is going to find the shop without help from signs leading the way there, she said.
Commissioners agreed, recognizing the store’s historic importance. However, some stressed that county codes must be enforced.
“We need to control our sign ordinance. We shouldn’t create a lot of exceptions,” Commissioner Fred Coyle said. “If we can establish signage for historical purposes, then we can do this without creating huge holes in our signage ordinance.”
Commissioners asked code enforcement employees to back off until the commission can further examine the issue.
Since McMillan said she was being charged $1,000 for each day she was out of compliance, commissioners also asked code enforcement officials to back off of the financial penalties until the issue comes back to commissioners.
There was some issue as to whether the off-site sign had been removed, and whether it should be replaced.
“I’m surprised the sign has been removed,” said Joe Schmitt, head of Community Development and Environmental Services.
There were no instructions for the sign to be taken down, he said.
Friday, Smallwood employee Ben Ludeman said he suspected there was a community vendetta over this sign issue.
“Code enforcement can be standing in front of a clear violation and unless (alerted to it) they won’t do anything,” Ludeman quipped.
Friday, a community business leader expressed some concern about these types of government actions.
Mike Reagen, president and chief executive officer of the Greater Naples Chamber of Commerce, hadn’t heard of the situation but said this isn’t the time for folks to get carried away by rules.
“We need to do everything we can do to stimulate tourism and business,” Reagen said.