By Diana Colson
The Woman’s Exchange gives back enormously to our community. In addition to $300,000 awarded in grants and scholarships, the organization paid out about $2,100,000 to their consignors over the past year. These monies were earned from the sale of an average of 12,000 items each month. Executive director, Karen Koblentz, says: “We operate as a business and earn all the money we give away. We are really proud of that!”
In 2016, the Greater Sarasota Chamber of Commerce gave Woman’s Exchange The Retail Business of the Year Award in the small business category. Located in downtown Sarasota at 539 S. Orange Avenue, the exchange draws in thousands of people each month to buy, consign, donate, or volunteer, a fact that brings energy to various small shops and restaurants in the nearby area.
An anchor building in Laurel Park’s national historic district, Woman’s Exchange is a not-for-profit organization benefiting the arts. Originally constructed in 1925 for the Sarasota Herald Newspaper, the organization has owned the building since 1967.
In spite of having been there for 49 years, Woman’s Exchange has recently been drawn into a brutal and expensive legal battle with the City Commission and residents of Laurel Park over the issue of expanding its Orange Avenue Location and constructing a new loading zone on Rawls Avenue. For the first time ever, the City Commission reversed the City staff’s determination that a site plan and building permit issued pursuant to the Downtown Code met all requirements, effectively rejecting the Woman’s Exchange’s plans for expansion.
At the time of this writing, the city has not yet formally rejected the plans in question, so it is unclear as to what route the Woman’s Exchange will now take. Robert Lincoln, legal counsel for the Woman’s Exchange, is evaluating information coming from the city to determine the best plan of action. The situation should clarify after the City Commission meets on June 20.
“The City’s decision might very well impact others,” Koblentz points out. Since the Woman’s Exchange development proposal was 100% to code, this reversal by the City could mean that other land owners could no longer purchase property with confidence. Karen sees the situation as basically an issue of property rights. “We are 100% to code, yet they denied us a permit. We have no other option but to fight for our property rights. They are our greatest asset. We are looking to find a way, but for now, we are in a holding pattern.”
In spite of the uncertainty that hangs over the future of the Woman’s Exchange, the 54th annual Awards Celebration was held in June, and the event was a grand success. Although the organization had invested $700,000 in the proposed expansion project, the Woman’s Exchange was able to give away $50,000 more than the $250,000 awarded last year in scholarships and grants!At the Awards Celebration in June, legal difficulties were set aside for the moment, and the event was a joyous one. Recipients of grants and scholarships, volunteers and other guests, gathered in the historic building to enjoy live music by Debbie Keaton and refreshments from Café l’Europe.
A very special memorial scholarship was given in memory of John Haywood, a Volunteer Coordinator who died suddenly this year. The Haywood scholarship was the largest to be given to a student, and Reed Tucker was the recipient. Reed is a gifted double bass student who has received several scholarships from Woman’s Exchange over the past few years.
22 local arts groups were recipients of the 2016/2017 Woman’s Exchange Grants. These are groups which bring enormous richness and variety to the area’s cultural offerings. The 22 recipients were Anna Maria Island Concert Chorus and Orchestra, Arts and Cultural Alliance, Artist Series Concerts of Sarasota, Asolo Theatre, Inc., Florida Studio Theatre, FSU/Asolo Conservatory for Actor Training, Gloria Musicae, Hermitage Artist Retreat, Key Chorale, La Musica di Aslo, Manatee Concert Band, Perlman Music Program, Players Theatre, Sarasota Ballet, Sarasota Film Festival, Sarasota Concert Band, Sarasota Opera, Sarasota Orchestra, The Pops Orchestra, Selby Gardens, The Venice Chorale, and—last but not least— Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe.
In addition to the impressive list of Grant recipients, 20 College students were awarded individual scholarships: Hayley Denham, Alyssa Dinka, Marie Dull, Matthew Falgowski, Joshua Galindo, Elizabeth Granowicz, Liston Gregory, Ashley Jackson, Luis Javier, David Klos, Nahman L’hrar, Victoria Miller, Rachael Querreveld, Casey Rich, Estefania Sanchez, Jillian Smith, Alina Timshina, Anna Jane Trinci, Reed Tucker, and Christine Wozniak.
10 High School students also received scholarships: Andrew Brady, Alexis Buege, Charlotte Couch, Melanie Gasparoni, Abigail Hodgson, Serenna Jones, Keely Karalis, Katherine Koach, Nadia McCall, and Skyler Miller.
Woman’s Exchange is an organization which repeatedly gives back to our community.