A Winter Park market has moved its business outside of city limits after the owner claims he was unfairly treated by city code compliance.
Eat More Produce opened its new location inside Orlando’s Fashion Square Mall on Monday after a five-year run on Orlando Avenue in the city of culture and heritage.
Owner Troy Gage said he moved his business to make life easier, but Winter Park city staffers say they were never trying to make his business difficult to begin with.
“I just had to get out of Winter Park,” Gage said. “It was becoming a full-time job dealing with code enforcement people.”
“If somebody stands up to them, they just make it their point to drive them out of town. I just don’t have time to keep dealing with them.”
Gage said he was told by code compliance that he couldn’t put his sandwich board signs outside his business, despite other nearby businesses having the same signs.
“Winter Park’s just become too business-unfriendly,” Gage said. “I showed them pictures of about 20 different places with sandwich boards and yet they tell me I have to report them. I’m not going to report other small business owners for trying to make a living.”
Gage said he’s received warnings for his sandwich board signs over the years, but the last straw came back in January when he was told he could no longer use his liquor license – depriving him of selling wine which had been one of his strongest selling points.
“There’s a guy from code enforcement that lives in the warehouse beside me and he complained that his residence is too close to my building,” Gage said. “They decided that I needed to get a change of purpose on the building. I’ve been selling beer and wine there for years…Winter Park has just gotten a little out of hand with their code people.”
But city code compliance tells a different story. Winter Park Fire Chief and Director of Code Compliance James White said they never had an issue with Gage’s liquor license, only sign violations and hosting large events with music without an appropriate permit.
White added that Eat More Produce had also been warned about keeping abandoned vehicles at the rear of the property.
Eat More Produce had complied following every warning though and were never fined, White said.
“The issues we had with him were dealt with,” White said. “We weren’t the reason for his departure, let’s put it that way. Nobody was telling him he had to go.”
“[People] think ‘Oh, code enforcement are the bad guys.’ Really we’re about compliance – we’re trying to educate people on what options they have.”
The new Eat More Produce sits just beside the JCPenney department store in the Fashion Square Mall. Gage said that he now pays half the rent he paid in Winter Park and now owns a store that’s nearly double the size.
Gage said the mall does a better job of encouraging business as well.
“They’re business-friendly,” he said. “They’re trying to attract it, not deter it.”