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Q: I really don’t feel that I or anyone else should be left with gift certificates. This is not the way to treat a person that was a loyal customer of Naples Tomato for over seven years. Something needs to be done. Angelina’s prices are too high for me and I live in East Naples. I have $502 in certificates purchased over two years.
— Mame, East Naples
Q: We have gift certificates from Naples Tomato. How can they be redeemed?
— Bud McKay, Naples
A: When Naples Tomato permanently closed April 28 after operating for eight years in North Naples, Angelina’s Ristorante in Bonita Springs offered to honor gift cards and coupons from the nearby shuttered restaurant at 50 percent of the face value.
Angelina’s, which also offers classic Italian cuisine and a large wine selection, is six miles north of the former Naples Tomato, also along U.S. 41. If Angelina’s and its 30-foot wine tower are higher than your price range, another option is to hold your cards and hope for another opportunity.
Although the owners of Naples Tomato said the concept and location don't work anymore, they left the door cracked a bit about the future of the restaurant franchise. A franchise holding company remains in place, and owner Jack Serfass said he hasn’t ruled out the possibility of reopening at another location. If that should happen, perhaps the gift cards could be used at the new restaurant.
Unfortunately, consumers still take a risk when buying gift cards. Purchasers should consider the financial condition of the company from which they are buying cards.
Beyond nickel lasagna night, telltale signs that Naples Tomato was near its end were not widely apparent. The local restaurant, which seemed successful in many ways, would have been low on my list of expected restaurant closings here.
Naples Tomato’s website heavily promoted its gift cards, which were available in 10 amounts ranging from $25 to $1,000. Before the website was disabled, I was able to document the restaurant’s “fine print” for its gift cards:
“Returning Gift Cards: Naples Tomato Gift Cards are not redeemable for cash unless required by law. Lost or Stolen Gift Cards: Naples Tomato Gift Cards are treated as cash. They cannot be replaced if lost or stolen. Expiration & Fees: Naples Tomato Gift Cards do not expire and are not assessed any fees.”
Of course, “closed loop” or merchant-specific retail gift cards are treated as cash when the business is open, but are not redeemable for cash when the business closes unless required by law.
Florida and federal laws don’t protect consumers of gift cards. Nothing has legally changed in the four years since I wrote about a spa in North Naples closing, leaving holders of gift certificates holding the bag.
Even though the attorney general’s office is responsible for the enforcement of consumer protection laws in Florida, it doesn’t have specific jurisdiction over gift cards.
The Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services is responsible for protecting consumers from unfair and deceptive business practices and providing consumer information, but its Division of Consumer Services can’t enforce laws that don’t exist. It can’t force a defunct business to honor anything.
On the federal level, the Federal Trade Commission functions as the nation’s consumer protection agency, but its Bureau of Consumer Protection can only educate consumers when it comes to gift cards, because it also cannot uphold laws that don’t exist. Regarding buying, giving and using gift cards, the FTC offers a consumer alert at www.ftc.gov. Among its suggestions are to “buy from sources you know and trust,” and “read the fine print before you buy.”
■ Florida Division of Consumer Services, 1-800-HELP-FLA; www.800helpfla.com.
■ Federal Trade Commission, 1-877-382-4357; www.ftc.gov
■ Better Business Bureau of West Florida, 239-334-4648; http://westflorida.bbb.org/
MORE RESTAURANT NEWS
■ Absinthe closed April 30 after operating for more than four years in unit 200 of the Galleria Shoppes at Vanderbilt, 2355 Vanderbilt Beach Road, North Naples.
"Absinthe is closed due to the new landlords weren't willing to renew our lease, so we had to move out," said Absinthe co-owner Armand Alikaj.
Absinthe opened in February 2008 in what was then called the Collection at Vanderbilt. A Texas-based investment partnership, doing business as Shoppes at Vanderbilt LLC, took over the shopping center in March 2011.
Alikaj is not in a hurry to jump back into the local dining market.
"For the time being, we don't have any plans to reopen Absinthe or to launch a new business, but we'll keep our options open," Alikaj said.
■ Refresh, planning to offer a small, healthy menu for lunch and dinner, is expected to open within the next month in the former Salad Creations space next to Pei Wei Asian Diner in the Galleria Shoppes at Vanderbilt, according to Bonnie Inman, one of the shopping center's owners. Refresh's menu will include organic wraps and smoothies. That space at 2355 Vanderbilt Beach Road has been vacant since Salad Creations closed in November 2010 after operating its healthier alternative to traditional fast food fare for about three years.
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"In the Know" is published Mondays and Wednesdays in the Naples Daily News. Find a complete archive of "In the Know" columns at naplesnews.com/intheknow.