By allowing ads to appear on this site, you support the local businesses who, in turn, support great journalism.
Seafood market working out problems with city
Owner expands to add bathrooms
Placeholder Image

Exactly 30 days ago, Phuong Le worried he would lose his seafood market.

Today, he's looking at approved plans to expand his business and meet city requirements to add bathrooms on site.

"Things are moving forward, so hopefully in a month we'll have two bathrooms and a simple dining area," Le said Friday. "A lot of people have called to ask if we're closed. They're afraid that the city has shut us down, but we're still here."

After a customer complained in the spring that the Atlanta Highway Seafood Market didn't have easily accessible bathrooms, Gainesville officials handed Le a code enforcement citation. With financial stress from the Gulf oil spill, Le said he was afraid he couldn't take on the extra project of adding bathrooms without going out of business.

When Le opened the business two years ago, Department of Agriculture officials inspected it and said the business didn't need bathrooms under its restaurant policy because only a small portion of the seafood market provides seating for those who buy a meal and choose to sit there to eat.

However, city and state policies follow the International Plumbing Code for customer facilities, which requires bathrooms for any "structures and tenant spaces intended for public utilization - and the path of travel to such facilities shall not exceed a distance of 500 feet."

The code also states customers can't walk through storage spaces or a kitchen to reach the bathroom.

Le's restroom for employees is located behind the kitchen.

Le visited City Council members in early September to talk about his financial burdens and appeared before Municipal Court Judge Hammond Law on Sept. 9 to talk about the citations. Law found him guilty and charged a $700 fine that will be waived if the construction is completed in 60 days.

The wait is over.

"We're pretty much on our way. We have the space next door under contract and have drawn up the plans to build it," Le said. "We may have to ask for more time on top of the next 30 days to complete it because of the new dining space that we have to build. We had to rent the entire space next door."

When news of the market's shaky future spread around the city, Steve Thomas, manager of the Historic Downtown Gainesville Market on the Square, created the Facebook page "Atlanta Highway Seafood Market Bathroom Fund" to update Gainesville residents. More than 90 people "liked" the page, and several customers posted comments.

"A lot of us have been going there for years, and the last thing we wanted to see happen was for it to close or move outside of our driving area," Thomas said Friday. "The original intent was to collect money from customers and give it to him to get a bathroom built, but he is just something else when it comes to people. He told me he couldn't take the money because he didn't earn it."

Thomas discussed different ideas with Le, such as a customer loan that would allow patrons to donate to a bank and allow Le to pay the loan back. Le considered the idea but moved forward on his own to get the project started.

"That was very nice of him, but I couldn't take money from people," Le said. "We're not a nonprofit. We're a business, and we had to get these bathrooms built."

Construction at the market will start next week. Le submitted plans to the city and now only needs to pick up a building permit, said Rusty Ligon, director of the Community Development Department.

If construction goes beyond the next 30 days, Le will need to request extra time from Judge Law to avoid the $700 fine, but Ligon said Friday he doesn't "foresee it as being a problem."

"Now I'll change the Facebook page once he gets the space redone and tell people who we're going to donate to go in and help pay for it," Thomas said. "I think the dining area can do nothing but add to his business."

Regional events