To the folks at Out of the Closet, a national chain of gay-friendly thrift stores that include HIV testing facilities and pharmacies, Miami Beach seemed like a perfect place to open a fourth Florida location.
The city holds an annual gay pride parade. And South Beach is home to more than 2,000 people living with HIV or AIDS, which as of May was the second highest rate for any zip code in the state, according to the Florida Department of Health.
But AIDS Healthcare Foundation, the chain’s parent company, misjudged badly when it opened its magenta and teal store at Alton Road and 15th Street earlier this year. Rather than rolling out the welcome mat, city planners took one look at the shop’s bold — and unpermitted — magenta and teal storefront and told Out of the Closet to find a new look for its SoBe shop.
That has foundation executives seeing red.
“Whether this is snobbery, whether this is discrimination against a nonprofit or whether it’s not wanting to advertise HIV in a tourist zone, we think it’s wrong,” said AIDS Healthcare Foundation president Michael Weinstein.
Weinstein and store design consultant Aaron Vinson say Out of the Closet is being singled out.
Part of their frustration is that South Beach isn’t exactly bereft of color. A number of buildings in the city are painted shades of pink or other deep or tropical hues. As Vinson points out, a Pollo Tropical one block away is painted a “garish” yellow and lime green.
Even the sidewalks are pink.
But Miami Beach officials say AIDS Healthcare Foundation knew its corporate colors were out of bounds in 2010 when the city approved the store design with toned-down colors. AIDS Healthcare Foundation agreed, but painted the store magenta and teal in February.
“We all thought that a solution was arrived at until these nice folks went ahead and did what they wanted to do anyway,” wrote Planning Director Richard Lorber.
Planning administrators say Out of the Closet wants to be treated differently to attract more customers.
On that last point, Weinstein agrees.
He said the deep magenta color, seen on the chain’s stores from Biscayne Bay to Columbus, Ohio, is part of the store’s marketing strategy to attract shoppers and potentially HIV-positive patients for free testing.
“If there are exceptions for anybody, we should be at the top of the list and not at the bottom,” Weinstein said.
Out of the Closet is not the only brand to run into a dispute over Miami Beach’s design regulations. Last year, Apple walked away from a Lincoln Road property after the city’s historic preservation board rejected a design for one of the company’s iconic cubes on Lincoln Road.
Mayor Matti Herrera Bower said even McDonald’s has complained about Miami Beach design regulations.
“It’s just about following the rules,” she said. “Otherwise we would be changing everything around for everybody.”
Weinstein said the foundation plans to appeal to the city commission.
Miami Herald staff writer Steve Rothaus contributed to this report.