A notice of a public hearing affixed to a storefront window fueled false rumors this week that pharmacy giant CVS was expanding its empire by installing its fourth Key West store, inside the Kress building, at Duval and Fleming streets, which housed Fast Buck Freddie's department store for 35 years.
"That is absolutely in no way true," said Tony Falcone, one of the building's owners, who opened Fast Buck Freddie's with his late partner in the mid-70s and made the difficult decision to close it last spring. "I've said no to a CVS deal three times. There is no contract with them and nothing pending with CVS. I do currently have a contract in the works with a local entity, but we're still working out the details."
The public notice announced a public hearing by the city's Historic Architectural Review Commission (HARC) "to consider a request for installation of one hanging sign, copy 'CVS Open 24 Hours' and wall signs with 'CVS,' 'Open 24 Hours' and 'CVS.'"
During the Tuesday evening HARC hearing, there was no mention of the fact that CVS has no lease or pending lease for the property at 500 Duval St.
The permit applicant, Patricia Ortiz, works for a company called West Central Florida Permits, which was hired by CVS to secure the required signage permits.
When contacted by The Citizen Wednesday, Ortiz said the absence of a lease was "news to me."
After discussion of the proposed signage, HARC members tabled the request without voting and advised Ortiz to revise the proposal and return next month.
The commissioners were concerned with the number of signs and the prominence of the words "Open 24 Hours," compared to the identifying text of CVS.
"They gave me the opportunity to come back with revisions, rather than denying it and making us go through a lengthy appeal process," Ortiz said. "None of the commissioners said anything about CVS not going in there, so I don't think they knew either. I didn't realize it was a contentious issue with CVS moving in there, until I had lunch in Key West yesterday and the bartender rolled his eyes and said something like, 'Great, another CVS, just what Duval Street needs.'"
But that won't be the case if Falcone can continue to prevent it and install a viable local tenant in the large space.
He said he didn't want to "jinx" the pending contract by speaking about it, as three prior deals with local groups have fallen through at the last minute. The negotiations also are very complex, as they involve four owners.
"I could've leased it to CVS a year and a half ago and saved myself a fortune, because I'm still paying my monthly share, and the taxes and insurance are huge," Falcone said Wednesday. "I've always been clear that I wanted a local enterprise to go in that space, and if this one comes through I'll be really pleased."
Falcone owns the 1917 building with musician Jimmy Buffett and his business partners Sunshine Smith and Kevin Boucher. Buffett's Margaritaville Cafe and Store are part of the Kress building, housed in additions that were added after the initial construction in 1917, Falcone said.
Margaritaville's offices and online merchandising department are in offices on the second floor, while local business tycoon David Wolkowsky, who sold the building to Falcone and his group, maintains a life estate for the penthouse apartment.