Downtown Sarasota buisness closing its doors after nearly four decades

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The owner pointed to construction on Lemon Avenue as the final straw.

SARASOTA — Lisa Charnicharo, owner of PJ’s Boutique in downtown Sarasota, said her store had a record day on Monday. So many customers crowded around the checkout counter, there was confusion as to who had been in the queue for the longest.

“I looked around at one point, and I said, ‘I honestly did not know there were this many people that were still in Sarasota in the summer,’” Charnicharo said.

Unfortunately, the customers weren’t only there to buy clothes, they were there to say goodbye to a store that had been in the community for 39 years. Many had misty eyes at some point during their visit. PJ’s Boutique’s final day in business at 1443 Main St. will be July 31.

“We have over 1,700 people on our email list. So I’ve had hundreds of emails and well wishes,” Charnicharo said.

After sales were down last year— an apparent result of the persistent red tide — the boutique began falling behind on rent payments.

Although the landlord gave PJ’s more time to catch up through the busy season, the beautification project on Lemon Avenue blocked a portion of Main Street and kept customers away. Charnicharo missed the last of her makeup payments by one month and received a notice to vacate on July 2.

“We had the worst June in the history of the store. We had three zero days, which we’ve never had in 39 years,” said Charnicharo. “We can’t really blame the landlord, because they were good with working with us. But it’s a direct result of just not being able to make it after red tide, and then construction. And then we had parking meters to look forward to, which we lost $30,000 worth of business the last time the parking meters went in.”

Charnicharo said she isn’t planning on relocating either; she’ll be saying goodbye to the business she had worked at since she was 17.

“At this point, it’s becoming an expensive hobby over the summer so it’s just not worth it. I’m really going to miss it, you know? I love my job. I’ve been so lucky,” Charnicharo said.

Charnicharo is also taking a break to focus on her health.

In 2003, she was diagnosed with breast cancer but fought it and was cancer free for 14 years. Then, in 2017, she was diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer.

“I can work part-time now. But I have medicine that makes me really tired. And I don’t know how long it would be until, you know, it changes because it’s not going to go away. It’s in my bones; it’s just going to be something I have to live with,” Charnicharo said.

It runs in the family

When Charnicharo started working at PJ’s to put herself through college, her mother owned the store.

After getting her associates degree in business management at State College of Florida — then called Manatee Community College — and finishing at International Academy of Merchandising and Design in Tampa, she made her way back to PJ’s.

After college, Charnicharo started putting on fashion shows.

From October to April, PJ’s would show off its selection about twice a month at local country clubs. It was able to sell $3,000 worth of merchandise off one table at the fashion shows. The business also hosted in-store fashion shows and other events for customers.

Charnicharo said she loved working with her mother, who retired in 2016.

Charnicharo’s husband would laugh and tease, “How can you be on the phone with your mother for an hour when you’ve worked all day together?”

“We’re ridiculous. But we have the same taste and we get along really well,” Charnicharo said.

Making a difference

A number of customers spoke about the personal touch PJ’s brought to their shopping experience.

One customer said the store was unique because when an article of clothing didn’t fit the way a customer wanted it to, PJ’s would alter it— sometimes going as far as replacing the waistline with elastic and moving the zipper up — so the customer could be satisfied with their purchase.

Charnicharo said she would even special order clothes for some of her customers, or put things off to the side when she knew it would fit someone’s particular style.

“I worry. With all the work that we put into it, if we can’t make it, who can anymore?” Charnicharo said.

PJ’s will continue to operate until July 31. After that, Charnicharo will continue selling merchandise from their website and may transfer to a pop-up shop until all of their merchandise has been sold.

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