INDIAN RIVER SHORES – Wendy Roberts of Noteworthy by Design says her Village Shops location is too much like home for her to ever want to leave.
Roberts has been at her shop tucked along north A1A for nearly six years selling stationery, invitations, personalized gifts and all manner of “frivolities.”
She finds comfort in the oak-covered village feel to the seven buildings and shaded walkways that make up the shopping center.
“People say to me don’t you want to leave here it is so much busier on Ocean Drive, but I say, ‘Oh, I would miss my space,'” she said. “I have actually had customers come in and say do you live here, because it looks like that and I say, ‘Well, sort of.'”
Part of the reason for that is the homey feel to the place with its oak canopy and winding paths between the shops with benches for resting, waiting or taking in lunch.
“I like the atmosphere, I love the big old live oak trees, I love the buildings that they seem like little cottages, there is a charm that you just don’t get at a regular shopping venue,” she said.
The Village Shops were first built by Hoke and Lola Maroon in 1972. The Maroons began adding a building to their property, anchored by a Commercial Bank that he founded in Miami, every couple of years until they ended up with the seven buildings and what are now 18 shops and businesses at the northern end of the county on A1A.
When Lola Maroon wanted to leave the area she sold to a partnership headed by local citrus magnate Ray Smith in 1989 and it has maintained the property ever since.
“It is very unique, there is no question it is the only one of its kind in Indian River Shores,” Smith said. “There won’t be anything else commercial like that.”
Residential developments to the north have helped sustain the Village Shops and its collection of men’s and women’s clothing stores, jewelry stores, home furnishings, and gift shops.
“When I first came here, there was nothing north of the Village Shops, other than John’s Island,” said Deborah Lietz of Deb’s Flowers for You, who has been at her same location for 29 years. “Now we have lovely communities that have totally grown north.”
The Village Shops draw much of its clientele from Indian River Shores, John’s Island, Orchid and Windsor.
The location is both a blessing and a curse for shop owners, they love the cozy atmosphere provided, but realize they are an intended drive away for their shoppers outside of their north island clientele.
“The problem is that we are off the beaten track a little bit,” Lietz said. “When I first came here it took 10 years before people stopped saying, ‘Oh, I didn’t even know you were here.’ That has been a hard thing to overcome.”
Property manager Martha Barrett says the at least half the shops have been there for over 10 years.
“If there is something we can do to help them, we try our best to help them,” she said. “We hate to see them leave, that is why we don’t have much turnover. Over 50 percent of the people who are up there have been there for over 10 years.”
Barrett says when a vacancy does occur, it does not take long to find a tenant.
“We don’t have a lot of turnover, when we do, we never advertise, it is all word of mouth,” she said. “We don’t want to put somebody in who will be in competition with the other shops. We want somebody that will add to the variety of the shops.”
And the shops that stayed have enjoyed success.
Marcia Clements is the dean of the village Shops having run the Baggy Bunny gift shop for 30 years.
“I think the nice thing about the shops here are they are not chains, they are individually run or Mom and Pop stores and there is a unique quality to them in that they have nothing to do with that chain orientation,” Lietz said. “That village ambience has not changed I think it has only become more and more charming.”
For Roberts it all adds up to a unique shopping experience that you won’t find anywhere else in Indian River County.
And she is confident that as the economy improves she eventually will see more than just her regular north island clientele.