Published March 10, 2010

St. Patrick’s Day Block Party
Starts at 9 a.m. Wed., March 17, The Shamrock, 2257 Ringling Blvd., Sarasota, 952-1730, free.

Head east on Ringling Boulevard and look to your left: You may spot a lonely hole-in-the-wall Irish pub with a green Volkswagon bus parked in the front. Iconic Sarasota watering hole The Shamrock has sat at this location since 1988. It’s a great spot to grab a quality craft beer, chat with some friendly bartenders and even catch a local live original band. But three short years ago, the pub served a vastly different scene.

“It was basically a hangout for the homeless,” says neighbor Cristy Owen of Cristy’s Custom Sewing. “The smell coming out of it was God-awful. You couldn’t even walk by the door. It still smells like a bar but it’s much cleaner. … It’s not like people sleeping in the back and getting drunk and passing out so I can’t get in my back door in the morning.”

Other surrounding businesses are saying similar things about what’s been going on since Derek Anderson took over the Shamrock in July 2007 — high praise for a place historically known for offering a free beer to people fresh out of jail. “He’s turned it over completely,” says Ringling Cleaners owner and Sham neighbor Chris Neiseler. “The clientele used to be people walking up or on bicycles, and now he’ll fill the parking lot.”

After a decade as a retail manager for Disney on Ice, Anderson took on the pub as a lifestyle change. “When I had my child I decided I couldn’t devote myself to that corporate life,” he says. “So, I started looking on Craigslist for business opportunities and I came across a listing for a pub near downtown Sarasota called The Shamrock.” He had planned to keep things roughly the same, but that quickly changed.

Anderson saw the previous owners’ lack of involvement with the pub, and decided that the only way to turn things around was to get proactive. “We were sending some people away and there were people who threatened me,” says Anderson. “When we started really putting our foot down on what’s not going to be tolerated here, the business changed. No beer out of jail. You can’t come in and beg. You can’t sell drugs. You can’t prostitute yourself. You can’t sell weapons. You can’t sell stolen property. You can’t sell food stamps. All that stuff was going on and it’s like, ‘No, no, no! That was then. This is now.’”

Paul Arcadi of Arcadi’s Shoe Repair, located on the opposite end of the Sham strip, appreciates Anderson’s management style. “He’s done a lot of positive stuff,” says Arcadi. “Before he owned it the people before weren’t too hands-on. Where he’s here and he gets in there and does his own work with the remodeling and stuff like that. He’s trying to make a go of it and I’m sure with the energy he’s putting in there he will.”

Out with the bad was a good first step, but soon Anderson felt inspired to bring in the good. “We stopped with that and then it was like, ‘You know what? We’re going to turn it on. We’re bringing in the great beer and we’re going to go where we need to go.’ That was like a year into it. … And after we did that the impact in the neighborhood was less guys drinking out in the alley, less guys panhandling at the gas station and at Publix.”

Jackie Hamel — owner of the Ringling Barber Shop, next door to Ringling Cleaners — agrees completely. “Derek has just totally changed the whole neighborhood,” she says. “He’s got it cleaned up really nice and it’s kind of making us all look shabby down here now. You don’t have beer bottles all over the parking lot anymore. You don’t have a mess out back. He definitely has done a fantastic job and he’s actually incorporated the pub into some fundraising.”

The Shamrock’s fundraising efforts continue at next Wednesday’s second annual St. Patrick’s Day Block Party; all profits go to the Sarasota Family YMCA Youth Shelter. The pub will open at 9 a.m. with all the St. Patty’s staples: green beer, dark stouts and corned beef and cabbage, but the Irish festival is rounded out this year with a host of Celtic rock bands, Irish dancers, bagpipes, neighborhood food vendors and a beer truck.

“We’re a neighborhood pub first,” says Anderson. “The first time you’re a customer. The second time you’re a friend.”

Photo by Tim Sukits

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