Michelle Allen is pissed.
Much to her dismay, St. Pete’s Bananas Records is a part of the City of St. Petersburg’s list of small and major businesses that needed to be inspected twice by local code enforcement. The list surfaced in full via local Fox affiliate WVTV a few weeks ago. The Tampa Bay Times also listed Bananas among several local businesses that were fined.
But Allen recently wrote that her record store, located at 2887 22nd Ave. N, was never fined, never warned verbally or in writing and never told it was in violation of any mask ordinance.
Allen also told Creative Loafing Tampa Bay that code enforcers said nothing to anyone in the establishment about a violation. She also said that inspectors were told that they were not obligated to say anything to owners or employees, which probably means that there most likely wasn’t even a violation to begin with.
In a phone call with CL following Allen’s post on the Bananas page, Benjamin Kirby, a spokesman for the City of St. Petersburg, told CL that inspectors were going into businesses and documenting it if and when they observed any violation — even something like employees improperly wearing a mask. Kirby added that the businesses are told about the observed violation. Violation reports then go through a management and legal review process before a citation is issued. Fox 13 and the Times may have thought any business on the initial inspection list was fined, according to Kirby.
But James Corbett, Director of St. Petersburg’s Codes Compliance Assistance Department, told CL that not enough context was handed out when some news outlets got a hold of the lists via a public records request. He regrets that Bananas and other businesses feel like being on the list made them feel publicly shamed.
Corbett oversees 24 investigators in his department, and just like every entity navigating COVID-19, his is not immune to human error. He told CL that in conjunction with Mayor Rick Kriseman’s mask mandate press conference — which Kriseman explicitly said was every business’ first warning — his investigators were briefed via conference call on how to observe businesses, talk with managers if there were any violations and explain how a fine may come in the mail following the aforementioned management and legal review office.
The misstep with the Bananas process was that an investigator who missed the initial briefing due to being out of the office for two weeks was sent out to do the inspection; that inspector, who was briefed separately upon their return to work, did not talk with management about the violation they observed.
Corbett told CL that the investigator who was at Bananas witnessed two employees not socially distanced, and not on the sales floor, but wearing masks improperly. The investigator should’ve spoken to management, but did not.
Corbett reviewed that inspector’s report, however, and came to the conclusion that a citation was in order; he said that other media outlets published Bananas’ name in the time in between his review and when a citation was placed in the mail.
“Bananas’ citation went out in certified mail on July 9,” Corbett explained. “It should get there any day now.”
Corbett wished he would’ve had an opportunity to explain to other media outlets, and Bananas, about the way the citation process works. He understands Bananas’ frustration.
“It was never the intent to put shame on anyone,” Corbett added.
“The city should be telling businesses during the code inspection about the violation, and we could learn how to improve. We didn’t even know we had a violation!” Allen told CL, adding that it was seeing Bananas listed in print that got her wound up.
“I did say that [the Tampa Bay Times] was working off a list,” she added. “I just think it’s unfair for that to be out there without somebody telling me.”
Take it from a longtime customer, though: All the Allens and their employees want is for everyone to be safe.