June 26, 2006 | General

Warehouse Chic Is The Mantra

BioCycle June 2006, Vol. 47, No. 6, p. 28
Retail warehouse marries form and function with salvaged building materials and home furnishings.
Jesse White

In Sarasota, Florida, a new form of retail is taking shape – warehouse chic. For Sarasota Architectural Salvage, creating a retail warehouse was born out of a marriage of form and function. We needed a large space to house building materials, yet something intimate and customized. The warehouse format gives us flexibility and spaciousness.
Located in over 10,000 square feet of warehouse and yard, my company, Sarasota Architectural Salvage, sells antique and salvaged building products as well as a range of home décor, finishes, and what we affectionately call “unique junk.” We’ve come to be recognized as the place in southwest and central Florida where you can find wrought iron fence, decorative cast iron, salvaged spiral staircases, and an array of solid wood doors, stained glass, salvaged flooring and lumber.
But retailing in a warehouse is a challenge. Our customers could be easily overwhelmed at the sheer quantity of materials available. In addition, the inventory changes daily. However, constant merchandising and creating themed areas help break up the space and provide a sense of order, aesthetic, and purpose for browsers. Some areas are dedicated to particular materials, such as doors. The themed areas help patrons visualize how our materials might be used.
The warehouse – a 30-year old metal frame building with 35-foot ceilings – gives us tremendous flexibility. We create our walls using merchandise. The back of a 19th Century British pub becomes a place to display an armoire made of ancient doors from India placed in an exotic keekur cabinet. Candelabras adorn hand crafted or antique tables. Vignettes pop up all over, showcasing the “latest greatest in new old stuff.”
Like many places in Florida, Sarasota’s real estate market is hot. So as a young entrepreneur, I wanted to buy the dirt and build a business. In my research, not owning the dirt can spell disaster for a salvage business. It takes years to build a clientele and inventory that complements each other. During that time, land values can skyrocket. A business in a tenant situation could find itself with a 30-day notice to vacate. That has spelled ruin for many architectural salvage businesses throughout the country.
When Sarasota Architectural Salvage began a search for new digs, we wanted to be near the urban core, yet we could not afford the prices of high traffic roads. So we focused on a lower rent district just north of downtown Sarasota. We found that the city of Sarasota’s Enterprise Zone (EZ) filled the bill. An EZ is an area targeted for economic revitalization. Economic growth and investment in distressed areas is encouraged by offering tax advantages and incentives to businesses locating within the zone boundaries. Florida has 53 designated enterprise zones.
Our experience with tax incentives has been mixed; jumping through the bureaucratic hoops can be time consuming and sometimes fruitless, but we have been able to make use of several opportunities. Additionally, our local EZ coordinator, Dru Jones with the city of Sarasota, makes every effort to help businesses in the EZ take advantage of the benefits. For example, we received a sales tax refund for a piece of capital equipment we use on-site. By opening in the EZ, our operation is certainly bringing new economic activity into the area, creating jobs, and helping to change the neighborhood for the better.
Without a lot of capital, our strategy was to become a destination center that would draw people from all over the region. Two years into the venture, we have grown the business by providing a quality product with quality service, but of course that’s what everyone claims to do. We weigh many possibilities in our business dealings, not the least of which is the impact of our actions on the environment. We offer a good package of benefits to our staff, encourage volunteerism, and partner with local nonprofits to promote the values of historic preservation, education and conservation. For example, we have partnered with the Sarasota Alliance for Historic Preservation to offer community education courses on home renovation and historic preservation; provided materials to the Sarasota based hands-on science museum, G-WIZ; and sold materials on behalf of the 501c3 non-profit Sarasota Waldorf School. Additionally, our sole tenant is the Sarasota Green Connection, a company committed to mainstreaming environmentally-preferable products and services.
We are a for-profit company, and, of course, we need to sell. Universal good deeds won’t pay the light bill. And you will find quality reproductions in the store. We are not purists. But having this value system guides us, helping us to draw customers who understand the value of handcrafted materials, recognize the quality of ancient lumber, and are willing to make the effort to restore something beautiful.
Jesse White is the proprietor of Sarasota Architectural, located on 11th Street at 1093 Central Avenue in Sarasota, where store hours are Thursday through Saturday, 9 to 5. Visit:; E-mail:

Sign up