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Beach Planet store coming to Ocean Drive

Photo: Newly constructed building on Ocean Drive is going to be a Beach Planet store.

Central Beach merchants no longer need to worry about a new Ocean Drive restaurant’s impact on curbside parking just north of Beachland Boulevard.

Turns out, the newly constructed building across from Bobby’s Restaurant & Lounge isn’t going to be a restaurant.

Instead, it is going to be a Beach Planet store, selling beach chairs, beach towels and beach umbrellas, as well as sunglasses, flip-flops, T-shirts and souvenirs.

“We’re going to carry some high-end merchandise – brands like Ray-Ban and Surf Life – but we’ll have plenty of reasonably priced stuff, too,” said Yair Alon, who heads a family partnership that owns eight similar stores in Florida, including one in downtown Delray Beach.

“It won’t be too expensive, because the majority of our customers will be families, as well as tourists staying in the nearby hotels and condos,” he added. “The average person will be able to shop there, but it’ll be nice. People will like it.”

Alon said last week he signed a five-year lease, which includes an option for an additional 10 years, shortly before Christmas.

Though he would not divulge the amount of the rent, Alon said it was “a little less” than the $12,000 per month – plus all taxes, insurance costs and maintenance expenses – that had been sought by the building’s owner, Miami-based Sony Investment Real Estate Inc.

Alon said he plans to open the store, which will be managed by his daughter, the first week of February.

Vero Beach-based commercial realtor Billy Moss, who brokered the deal, said the flooring and air-conditioning system have been installed, and “now it’s just a matter of putting on the finishing touches.”

Moss said the store will have a “more wide-open interior” than a restaurant, adding that the interior will “look very pretty” and the exterior façade will “fit” with its Ocean Drive neighbors.

Alon said the store will have a “nice floor,” with merchandise displayed on wall fixtures and tables.

“Most of our stores are 12,000 square feet, 10,000 square feet, even 7,000 square feet,” he said, adding that he has been operating beach shops for nearly 30 years. “This one is a baby-size store. It’s only 2,700 square feet, so we’ll have to make some changes to how we usually do it.”

Alon said he explored the possibility of putting a store on Ocean Drive after visiting Vero Beach last year and seeing that the building was available for lease. He contacted Moss, who was conducting a national search for a tenant for what was projected to be a restaurant.

When Moss told him the building’s owner was willing to consider a non-restaurant tenant, Alon and his partners began discussing a business plan and, late last year, began negotiating a lease.

“We came to the area a couple of times, liked what we saw here and decided we wanted to try,” Alon said. “We’re looking at, potentially, a 15-year commitment. I hope we don’t have to leave after five.

“As long as business is good, we’ll be here.”

Some of his Ocean Drive neighbors, however, have serious doubts about the financial viability of such a store, considering the steep rent – $9,000 to $10,000 per month – they believe Alon agreed to pay.

They also believe a beach store is misplaced alongside the high-end, boutique-style shops along that stretch of Ocean Drive and would be a better fit in Sexton Plaza or near the Driftwood Resort, where there is more foot traffic.

“I don’t think it’s appropriate for our area, where we pride ourselves as being the Beverly Hills-like part of Ocean Drive,” said Caesar Mistretta, co-owner of the JM Stringer Gallery. “I don’t really like the image of a beach shop or T-shirt store there, but there’s nothing we can do about it.

“The bigger question, though, is: How is he going to make it, paying that kind of rent and selling the type of merchandise he’s planning to sell?” he added. “Even at our level, with higher unit prices, it’s difficult. And the people who come to our shops – they’re not the customers he’s hoping to attract.”

Melinda Cooper, owner of the Cooper & Company women’s clothing shop, said she was stunned to learn a beach shop was opening next door.

“I think if you ask anybody around here, they’ll tell you they were surprised,” Cooper said. “You wouldn’t pick Vero Beach for that kind of business. You’d pick a younger community with a lot of turnover. And you certainly wouldn’t put it where we are on Ocean Drive.

“I talked to him, and I don’t think he knows this market and understands how slow it is in the summer,” she added. “He thinks there’s a summer season here. There isn’t.

“So I don’t know what he’s going to do to survive, unless he can afford to have a store as a write-off.”

Bobby McCarthy’s reaction to news of the beach store opening across the street?

“Good luck with that,” the owner of Bobby’s said. “This isn’t Fort Lauderdale Beach, with a thousand people walking around here, so I don’t know what he’s thinking.

“It’s not like you can’t buy the same stuff in other stores in the area,” he added. “If you’re coming over from the mainland, you can go to a lot of stores on that side and probably get it cheaper. And if he’s relying on tourists, the hotels already provide beach chairs and umbrellas.

“I guess the guy knows what he’s doing, because he has other stores, but he better do a high-volume business 10 months out of the year.”

At the same time, McCarthy, Mistretta and Cooper each said they preferred Alon’s Beach Planet to a restaurant because the beach shop would have far fewer employees and rely more on foot traffic, resulting in a less impact on an already-challenging parking situation along Ocean Drive, especially north of Beachland Boulevard.

“For us, it’s a sigh of relief, because this is better than having a restaurant, although we were hoping for more of an upscale place,” Mistretta said. “But any restaurant would’ve struggled there – not just because of the high rent, but also because of the lack of parking.

“I think every prospective restaurant tenant saw that.”

Moss said there were restaurateurs interested in leasing the building, and that a restaurant would’ve been successful there. However, he said Sony president Jose Valle, who owns a home on the island, was aware of the local opposition to the proposed restaurant and “wanted to be a good neighbor.”

So Valle gave Moss the go-ahead to pursue a deal with Alon.

“The owners were very concerned about the feelings of the people in Vero Beach,” Moss said. “They love this community, and they want Vero to remain Vero, too. So when this other option presented itself, they thought it was worth looking into.

“People I talked to thought it was a good idea, and building owners agreed,” he added. “So Yair was vetted and his businesses were investigated. The landlord took a trip to the store in Delray Beach to look it over.

“Once both sides agreed to move forward, it was a honeymoon negotiation.”

Alon said he was aware of the controversy surrounding Sony’s attempt to put a restaurant in the building, and he’s sure his beach store won’t add to the area’s parking problems.

But he knows some of his neighbors are concerned that his store threatens Ocean Drive’s upscale charm.

“Now they’re not worried so much about the parking,” Alon said. “Now they’re worried about me. I’m already feeling the stares.”