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Trouble in paradise? Concerns from business owners in St. Michaels

Posted at 11:22 PM, Nov 08, 2021
and last updated 2021-11-08 23:22:03-05

ST. MICHAELS, Md. — From the melodious bells at Christ Church to the street side tables along Main, there's no denying St. Michaels charm. The mile long strip of scenic water views highlight why it's ranked 7 out of 10 for the Best Small Coastal Towns in America by USA Today!

"I live on the main street. All the trucks that go lumbering by the motorcycles to me it adds to the charm of the town."

"I love my neighbors. This is my new hometown now."

But after 20 plus years living in St. Michaels, Paulette Florio isn't happy with what's being called the "new direction,” of her small town.

"I don't feel like these commissioners have any compassion for the businesses at all," she said.

Business owners like Jennifer Stevens who owns the Bistro St. Michaels.

"They don't seem to be pro-business at this point. There's talk of too many tourists in town. They've cut the marketing budget," Stevens said.

Chris Agharabi agrees, he owns three businesses including a town favorite...Ava's Pizzeria.

"You gotta have a good guiding light, and we look to the commissioners for a good guiding light here and it seems kinda dim right now," said Agharabi.

"It's just been a very challenging year and you would think the town would want to assist their businesses rather than make it more challenging and difficult for them," said Jennifer Smith, Vice President of the newly formed St. Michaels Restaurant Association.

She says this lack of transparency of the current town commission as they call it couldn't have come at worse time for the struggling businesses who survived the pandemic.

And their regular customers, many of them being homeowners, share their pain.

"This new direction they’re talking about is not new. One of the commissioners was a commissioner 10 years ago and tried the same thing."

A town business license, privatizing trash pickup, and limitations on outdoor music are just some of the things they say the commissioners are adding onto their plates.

The two groups are at a dead end.

Commissioners Aida Kahil and Tad duPont who's also the town treasurer admit they have made cuts to the advertising budget, but they say not to hurt tourism.

Neither would do an on-camera interview, but we talked in Muskrat Park for about an hour.

They're both business owners themselves and say they want the town to continue to be a beloved tourist destination, but better. They say they've cut taxes for property owners.

They're privatizing trash collection to share the cost more fairly among property and business owners.

They're working with the planning commission to upgrade parking options and adding dozens of new off-street spaces. In addition to parking, they want to add to the towns three public restrooms for visitors.

And they're conducting a nationwide search for a new town administrator.

"We had a guiding light with our town manager that was fired."

The commissioner’s list doesn't sit well with businesses who are already short staffed and have adjusted the way they do business due to the pandemic changes.

The biggest fear for homeowners, is the commissioner’s changes will drive away the tourism in their town and the businesses that attract it.

"The building that you’re sitting in right now was a bank. We don't have any banks anymore. Down the street was a doctor’s office, we don't have a doctor anymore. Over here a couple blocks was an ACME, we don't have grocery store anymore. There's a lot of what we don't have here and they're driving more of it."