During the December 10, 2012, meeting of the St Augustine City Commission, on a 4-1 split vote with Vice-Mayor Nancy Sikes-Kline dissenting, the City agreed to pay $14,150 for the fourth logo to be associated with the 450th Commemoration; an image to be trademarked and licensed by the city for everything from apparel, to coffee mugs, to carry-bags, to baseball caps.
Created March 5th, the virtual store’s “Grand Opening” is underway, operating from a St Augustine post office box and on the Internet at staugustineapparel.com; complete with a free shopping bag with qualifying orders, while supplies last, free shipping on all orders totaling $50 or more, t-shirts and a small assortment of other logoed merchandise pictured on the facebook and twitter pages.
“The City of St. Augustine brand featured in this official City of St. Augustine online store showcases what visitors and residents love about our picturesque city,” states the Internet store. “The brand brings together St. Augustine’s extraordinary combination of history and lifestyle with awe-inspiring landscapes and architecture surrounded by beautiful coastal and Intracoastal waters.”
What is confusing is exactly who owns what and how the City is involved in the apparel business. Closer investigation of the website credentials reveals a different owner; not the City, despite the contrary language. If the store is not operated by the City, did we just pay nearly $15k, plus trademark registration fees, for the benefit of another private business?
For example, the store site says, “The St. Augustine 450th Commemoration team is pleased to announce the grand opening of its online store.” Sounds like the web store is owned by the “St. Augustine 450th Commemoration” — which is the City, which means the 13,000 local taxpayers. Further the site says, “This store is the official online headquarters for St. Augustine commemorative merchandise and memorabilia.” Again, use of the word “official” gives support to the understanding that the apparel store at the staugustineapparel.com website is, in fact, a city website.
More clearly, the claim is made, “This City of St. Augustine online merchandise store is an extension of the St. Augustine 450th Commemoration website and virtual initiatives. This is the official online store for all branded merchandise associated with the City of St. Augustine.”
It is only after a closer read of one short sentence, “It is managed by St. Augustine Apparel,” that we find a clue that this is in truth a privately owned and operated website; the property of a Florida corporation, “STERPHONE INC”, just incorporated last month.
The trade name, “St. Augustine Apparel” is a registered fictitious name of Sterphone Inc — which was registered less than 30-days ago.
As we look further into corporation and Internet registration records, something no casual shopper is likely to do, we are able to identify that the real owner of the “Official Online Store of the City of St. Augustine” is not the City of St Augustine at all, but rather David William Sterphone, Jr., and his wife Rebecca Anne Sterphone. They appear to be using their residence address on Crete Court in St Augustine as their physical business address.
In addition to soliciting credit cards as payment through AuthorizeNet, the “official online store” is selling Gift Certificates in denominations of $10 to $200; however, they expire after 1 year and are non-refundable. Other merchandise sold comes with a 30-day “100% satisfaction guarantee” that offers a full refund, replacement, or exchange.
Historic City News continues to follow the 450th Commemoration activities with an eye, jaundiced by fraud, waste and abuse — both by the City Commission, the City Administration, and City Contractors; who have, thus far, proven to be long on promises and short on results.
So, “buyers beware” when you shop for the latest, officially licensed apparel, clothing, merchandise, hats and other products. When it comes time to redeem your gift certificates, or exact your full refund, or are looking for your undelivered merchandise order — you may be looking to a two or three month old business to make good on these representations — NOT a 450-year-old municipality who continues to dabble in non-government, private businesses.