The saying goes that a good fence makes good neighbors, but a wall is not enough for a business in Bradenton battling secondhand smoke.
Kathy Burnett operates Signs 2 Go in the Braden River Crossing shopping center off State Route 64 East. Walk into her store and the smell of cigarette smoke is noticeable, and she says it's all coming through the vents shared with a bar in the next unit, PaddyWagon Irish Pub.
"We closed several times because it's so overwhelming we couldn't stand it," Burnett said.
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The problem doesn't rest with PaddyWagon, Burnett said, but the landlord, Benderson Development, which constructed the units after the company purchased the plaza. Burnett has a sign in her store that reads, "Danger Second-Hand Smoke Inside," but was told to take it off her window or else she would be violating her lease for advertising outside of her space.
Another version of the sign was vandalized, she said, and blamed it against two former bar employees, and filed an incident report with the Bradenton Police Department, but no charges were filed.
The units are separated by drywall, but have a common attic with a drop ceiling, where the smoke passes through. PaddyWagon has an oversized ceiling fan and a smoke-eating vent to eliminate the smell in their bar, but it's apparently being passed over to Signs 2 Go, according to Burnett.
Burnett moved into the unit in 2006 after Advanced Auto Parts wanted her end unit. PaddyWagon opened in September.
The Occupational Safety and Health Act says building owners can be held liable for health issues related to poor indoor air quality. A request for comment from Mark Chait, Benderson's director of leasing for the Southeast, was not returned. Burnett called the Herald later Monday saying an air conditioning expert came out that afternoon to inspect the
unit, but is unsure if work will be completed.
"If they could just get rid of the smoke, I would just shut up," Burnett said. "I don't like to do this. It's not me. I just want to have a peaceful existence here and make some money."
Burnett said she is current on her Bradenton lease. Court records show an open case for eviction at her University Park store, 8435 N. Lockwood Ridge Road, after being behind $24,184 in rent. Her attorney withdrew from the case because the attorney-client relationship is "strained" and "impractical and impossible for representation to continue," according to the lawsuit.
At that location, she is beside a nail salon and restaurant and doesn't have any problems with cooking smells or acrylic nail chemicals coming into her vents.
When a reporter visited the store Monday morning, the bar wasn't open yet, but the odor of smoke from the weekend was still strong. Signs 2 Go was closed from 5:30 p.m. Friday to Monday morning.
Reached by phone later Monday, Ed Smith, franchise owner of PaddyWagon, said he has done all he can to mitigate the smoke.
"We have more than enough A/C," Smith said, adding that the landlord, Benderson, didn't find any issue.
Charles Schelle, business reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7095. Follow him on Twitter @ImYourChuck.