December 14, 2015
Locals and tourists alike have loved shopping, dining and entertainment in St. Armands Circle for decades. Yet, few know its storied past. It all started with a typo. Yes. That’s right, a typographical error.
Frenchman Charles St. Amand bought roughly 132 acres for a whopping $27.71 in 1893. He made the land habitable, enjoyed fishing in the bay and growing produce that he would bring to City Pier in Sarasota to sell. When St. Amand registered the land deed, his name was misspelled. And that’s why we call it St. Armands today.
Enter circus magnate John Ringling. In 1917, he purchased the property with grand plans to transform the key into a residential and shopping area. He envisioned the shops ringing a circle in the area. Back then, there were no causeways to bring people from the mainland to St. Armands. While his laborers built the two bridges to bring people from Downtown Sarasota to St. Armands in 1925, Ringling’s steamboat was used as a workboat.
The bridges took one year to complete and Ringling being the grand showman that he was, led a parade with a band playing from a bandstand in the center of St. Armands Circle. He offered free bus rides to bring people to the area in hopes of selling homes and leasing commercial space.
Unfortunately, right around the corner was the Great Depression. Home sales came to a screeching halt on St. Armands and the once meticulously maintained streets and sidewalks became overgrown and covered in Florida vegetation.
It wasn’t until the 1940s when a few investors decided to open restaurants and a local gas station. Then, by the mid 1950s, St. Armands started taking shape once again.
Today, 140 businesses pull locals and tourists alike from the mainland. You can see Ringling’s vision come alive with the precise landscaping and the Italian statues (which came from Ringling’s personal collection) that circle the key. St. Armands offers some the finest dining in Sarasota while shoppers revel in the exquisite stores, boutiques, and galleries.