Sarasota Downtown Merchants Association

To be a member, is to be a true city builder!  We advocate economic growth that fosters the district’s full potentials as a premier and vibrant destination.

Join the Sarasota downtown merchant association!

We are an organization of downtown business owners who care about preserving and improving the Heart & Soul of our Community.

Zoning. Permits. Special Events. Special Improvements.

We strive to create a clean, safe, and vibrant Downtown through services provided to property owners, businesses, residents and employees.  The Sarasota downtown merchant association works in collaboration with the Downtown Improvement District (DID) and is governed by a volunteer Board of Directors.

The team is dedicated to enhancing the overall appeal of Downtown Sarasota. Initiatives include hospitality, cleaning, lighting, security outreach, street scape, employee parking, alley improvements, urban planning and engagements that benefit downtown patrons, visitors and stakeholders.

Join the Sarasota Downtown Merchant Assocation

Retail Members

Experience the unique vibe of our city while browsing local shops and boutiques.

Restaurant Members

With more than 95% of our downtown dining options owned and operated locally, it’s easy to support local and eat where the locals eat!

Member Advocacy

Stay up to date with the perks of membership and what we’re working on.  Join our mailing list!

Here’s what we coordinate for members

Our members work together to make downtown Sarasota an unparalleled place to shop, dine and enjoy the many cultural amenities that our city has to offer.  Volunteers collaborate to fund downtown initiatives, projects, petition local agencies and recruit promotional partners to deliver iconic festivals and events.  We seek matching funds for advertising such as commercials and ads in Visit Sarasota.

Marketing downtown as a destination

We’ve collected over 15,000 social followers!

In 2017 members recruited Pro It Out Marketing to build brand platforms.  Considering the competing shopping centers that surround the core district, the brand ‘Destination Downtown Sarasota’ was born.

For six years, the associations $12,000 annual investment into advertising and marketing has resulted in the following growth.  Connecting & Growing! The district’s brand “Destination Downtown Sarasota” now serves as a voice for the district.

Just a few ways downtown business owners give back to the community.

Strengthening Community

Business owners in a self-taxing district

Every voice counts!  Get involved.

Downtown property owners created a self-taxing association in 2008, the Downtown Improvement District (DID).  Five downtown commercial property owners are on the board.

At the same time, the Sarasota Downtown Merchants association was formed to represent merchants within the DID district.  While special taxing districts are all the rage.  They often operate out of sight and out of mind for most voters and tax payers.  The associations board members actively attend city meetings and request:


  • Supplemental services to keep the streets and sidewalks clean.
  • Fresh flowers, shade trees & transforming our alleys
  • We advocate investments upgrade the aesthetic appearance of the district and make people feel welcome and safe.
  • We advocated against using the districts self-taxing funds for the trolley
  • We advocate for safe parks and well light streets
  • We serve as a voice for the district

Responding to objections from property owners, the City Commission scaled back its plans for spending money from downtown and St. Armands business districts.”


“Multiple studies have shown that special districts provide services at a higher cost, and their services are no better or sometimes worse than those provided by municipal governments or the private sector.”

‘Out of Site: How Special Taxing Districts Circumvent Spending Limits and Decrease Accountability in Government by Goldwater Institute, the nation’s preeminent liberty organization.

DID news! Be in the know

More importantly, excluding DID voters, not a single business owner in attendance (many who waited hours to speak at the DID meeting) supported the 8 p.m. to 11 p.m. once a month investment yet DID commissioners passed the vote 4-1  the $140k 12 month investment.

As a result we launched our own ‘First Friday Sip & Shop‘ event which takes place from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. at a fraction of the expense.

$30,000 Oct-Dec for three Fresh Friday Events at $10,000 each

We’ve requested a P & L multiple times supporting 2021 expenditures however the DID commissioners have not received financial investment reports yet voted to renew 4 to 1 for another 3 months. 

Since our events are self-liquidating it’s important to review expenses in an effort to expose cost saving opportunities.

Comparatively St. Pete’s First Friday cost the coordinator between $8,000 & $10,000 monthly and includes the cost for police & road closures.

$16,5000 Oct-Dec for 3 months of Digital Marketing Services

Website Management & Hosting. 

Using the below site audit tool we identified that the DID’s new website collected less than 20 monthly visitors in 2021 & has since grown to 71 visit in September 2022.  The site contains 163 keywords.

Our members website DestinationDowntownSarasota.com collected 1,100 site visits in September 2022 & includes over 900 keywords.

Social Media Marketing. 

The DID paid a firm $60,000 for their 2021/2022 fiscal year to marketing downtown.  The Facebook page the firm created has a total of 150 followers after 12 months of $5,000 monthly payments.  We were unable to find an Instagram account for the DID using a simple search.

Comparatively, our members Facebook page collects over 150 followers per month on a $100  ad spend budget.

The DID Newsletter.  Email marketing is a great way to build followers.  Unfortunately the DID has not received reports therefore we cannot report on how many people are receiving the newsletter nor whether it’s a worthy investment.

We are passionate about accountablity

  • Commercials offer merchants a 50/50 slit investment, coordinated by the Sarasota Downtown Merchant & still used today
  • According to DID Commissioner Chris Voelker “Anyone can create a directory.”  That’s true, but in 5 years the DID spent over $30,000 towards the effort.  2017, 2020 & again in 2021.  Here’s what happens when changing URLs.
  • In 2021 the DID spent $100,000 from the 3% self-tax budget to pay Jeffery Kin, the longtime producing artistic director of the Players Centre for Performing Arts, to coordinate a National Annual ‘Art Festival’ downtown.
    • Then on Sept. 6, 2022 the DID voted 3 to 2 not to support additional fund request since the promoter moved the event location to the Ringling which falls outside the DID’s self-tax zone.
  • City commissioners voted unanimously to remove six benches from the park April 2012.  Today we have a downtown trolley but no bench to rest & wait
  • Downtown Condo Boost of 2013  implemented & coordinated by the city government & DID
  • Downtown Sarasota Roundabouts & the FDOT
  • Downtown Sarasota Parking Meters
  • In 2016, the DID invested $6,500 for the logo “We Love Downtown Sarasota.”  which covered the expense for logos in districts outside of the self-tax zone

We organize destination events

Sarasota Pineapple Drop NYE Block Party, Saturday December 31, 2022

Organizer: Ron Soto

The big New Year’s Eve party in Sarasota is the annual Pineapple Drop Block Party! The dropping of the big glowing pineapple comes at midnight and takes place at the intersection of Lemon Avenue and Main Street in downtown.

The actual pineapple drop is the highlight of a party that includes a wide range of entertainment and attractions throughout the day, starting from 1:0.0 p.m. and running right through until 1:00 a.m. on new years day morning.

A Shout-Out to The Gator Club and Mattison’s City Grille for sponsoring stages over the years.  Thank you for your partnership.  With media support donated by iHeart Radio, SNN and ABC News the event is the largest NYE celebration in south Florida.

Become a Sponsor

There are many sponsorship opportunities available.  Swing by Soto’s Optical located at 1383 Main Street to learn more.

City Christmas Tree

Organizer: Ron Soto

The tree stands approximately 40 feet tall and requires 2 workers and several days to assemble.

The merchant association pays for storage, coordinates set-up and organize an annual tree lighting event.

The Sarasota Christmas Tree Lighting event is where neighbors come together.  Magical memories are captured in front of the charming Christmas Tree while children visit with Santa Claus.  The sounds of the season take over Five Points park as Carolers entertain crowds.

First Friday Sip & Shop

Organizers: Darci Jacob, Harmony Krusing Bens & Ron Soto

A grass roots effort was launched in the fall of 2021 to build a monthly First Friday Sip & Shop event.  The event took place from 5-8 pm and urged travelers and locals to shop destinations downtown.

Organizers coordinate entertainment, live music and distribute red balloons to showcase participating merchants.


Organizers: Laura Kresl & Darci Jacob

Donte’s Den is a long-term care center for dogs, safe haven for pets whose owners can no longer care for them. They also provide short term boarding.

Dogs don the Halloween garb for the annual Sarasota Dog-A-Ween Costume Contest.  Organizers plan logistics, assemble prizes and media.

Sarasota ROCKtoberfest, October 14-16, 2022

October 14-16, 2022

Paragon Festivals with the Sarasota Downtown Merchants bring an authentic 3-Day Oktoberfest experience coupled with fantastic live musical performances to downtown Sarasota in JD Hamel Park. Admission to this family-friendly event is free!

Le Marche Bohemien

Experience LeMarche Bohemien Parisian-Inspired Outdoor Marketplace – Saturday, November 5, 2022 from 10:00 am to 5:00 pm downtown Sarasota in Five Points Park. Admission is free.  Discover an array of one-of-a-kind pieces created by some of the region’s most talented artisans while enjoying live music by Parisian vocalist, Michelet Innocent.

Sarasota Fine Art Festival

The Sarasota Fall Fine Art Festival returns November 19-20, 2022 for its ninth season.  Whether you are an art collector of wish to find origintal, creative handmade arts and fine crafts for home or office, comsee the palette of art the event will lay for you. 

Join the Sarasota Downtown Merchant Assocation Today!