Clearwater, Florida - When supporting a business, do you care about the owner's religious beliefs or political affiliations? One Clearwater business believes that matters.
Along with signs promoting special deals, and looking for extra help, the owner of Berry Beautiful Salon and Spa posted a sign making this statement "not owned by a Scientologist."
"It's important for people to understand it's not discrimination; it's a statement of fact," says Travis Wilkinson, salon owner. He says, "People may not consider this politically correct, but there's nothing illegal about it."
Wilkinson moved his salon to downtown Clearwater from Largo less than a year ago and struggled drawing in business. One day he realized the Church of Scientology may have something to do with it after he saw people's reaction to a book he sells.
"My uncle wrote a handbook that says 'Diabetes Handbook', and it looks very similar to Dianetics Handbook. People would just assume that we were Scientologists and turn around and start to leave."
That's when Wilkinson put up the sign in front of his store.
"We're not Scientologists. In fact, we're Southern Baptist Christian based," says Wilkinson.
Since posting the sign last month, Wilkinson says his business has doubled and now he's encouraging other businesses to do the same.
He created the Clearwater Small Business Coalition and is offering 30 businesses who post the sign free membership, but when we checked for a members' list, there wasn't one.
He says, "Most businesses came to talk to me, said they're scared and afraid of repercussions."
Wilkinson reports 15 businesses are interested in signing on, but he's waiting to have 30 business owners willing to post the sign to go public.
We showed Clearwater Chamber of Commerce's President Bob Clifford the notice Wilkinson is offering small businesses to post.
"I think it's totally inappropriate for that in downtown Clearwater or any place else." Clifford said the reason some businesses on Cleveland Street are vacant is not because of the Church of Scientology's presence, but because property owners are charging too much per square-foot, and can afford to wait for the right tenant.
Clifford added that even though the Church of Scientology is the city's largest taxpayer, it owns only a fraction of the property.
"There's somewhere between 65 and 75 percent of the property downtown that are owned by individuals unrelated to the Church of Scientology."
Clifford says signs like the ones Wilkinson posted further divide the community. "It's totally negative; I thought we were beyond this."
We tried repeatedly to get a response from the Church of Scientology, but the group's public relations spokesperson Pat Harney's final answer was "no comment."
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