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Ocean Drive shops enjoying ‘post-pandemic’ rebound

STORY BY STEPHANIE LABAFF (Week of April 29, 2021)
Photo: Vickie Kirchhoff and Candace Turgeon shopping at Twig.

Be prepared to wait in line if you are going shopping on Ocean Drive this month as island shops enjoy a strong “post-pandemic” retail rebound.

The virus is still around, and precautions still need to be taken. 

But with more and more residents vaccinated and resuming their normal lives, the sound of cash registers ringing up sales along Ocean Drive, Cardinal Drive and adjacent streets is an exhilarating change compared to last year at this time, when shops were shuttered, and the future looked grim.

Business is being driven by a rebounding tourism sector, longtime customers reemerging and new residents venturing out to enjoy the beachside shopping district.

At Loggia, an Ocean Drive lifestyle store, they’re seeing lots of new faces said Diane Williamson, Loggia store manager. “People are definitely shopping. They’re buying clothing just as much as always; and then, of course, with all the new people moving to the area and others spending more time at home, the home decor category has been good.”

Cathye Motta, manager at Frances Brewster, a women’s clothing store, is excited to see more people with shopping bags on the streets. “Things are picking up, and I think it’s going to be a good summer. Next season is probably going to be a great season.”

She said she has discovered that her customers want to dress up again. They’re looking forward to the return of galas, and weddings are “off the charts,” she shared. “Every other person who walks through the door has a wedding coming up.”

Lynn Williams, Posh owner, noted that sales began to increase once people were able to get the COVID-19 vaccination. “Then people were more willing to go out, and we’ve had a great season.”

Williams said sales so far this year at her clothing and accessories store are back on par with 2019 before the pandemic hit.

At Leigh Jewelers, owner Suzanne Leigh had a robust first quarter and is looking forward to a busy summer, seeing no signs so far of traffic slowing down. “People are shopping. Our numbers are equal to 2019 ... It’s been a strong year overall.”

The increase in new full-time residents has helped out with 2021 numbers, Leigh said, so much so that she has already had to order more items for her Vero Collection.

The first quarter was strong for Ocean Drive Jewelers, too. Debbie Zafiris, owner with husband Taso, said January and February were very good months.

“We’re doing very well,” said Caesar Mistretta, who co-owns J.M. Stringer Gallery along with John M. Stringer. “We’re well ahead of last year, surprisingly.”

Mistretta credited the gallery’s good fortune to booming real estate sales that are bringing new residents to the island and longstanding relationships with repeat clients. “People can’t travel, so they are spending more time at home; and they are spending more on things to do with the home, including art.”

Ana Ismael, owner of M. Maison, a décor and fashion shop, noted that people are coming into the shop again and that “things are almost back to normal. People are buying more personal stuff because they weren’t doing that last year.”

Now that people are getting back out there, dining out at restaurants and having cocktails at a friend’s house, Ismael said her customers are starting to dress up again and are looking for things like hostess gifts.

She is really excited about the influx of new residents and seasonal residents extending their time in Vero Beach further into the summer. “We are super positive as we head into summer. This is going to be a different summer.”

“It’s been a long haul,” reflected Melinda Cooper, owner of Cooper & Co., a purveyor of fine women’s clothing. “But now people are out roaming around a little bit more.”

She said an increase in wedding business bodes well for the summer. “We missed the charity events for the season, but weddings are really picking up.”

As more and more of the wedding venues reopen, this year’s weddings, along with many of those postponed last year due to the pandemic, are being rescheduled during the summer and into the fall, explained Cooper.

Mark Frankenberger, Corey’s chief pharmacist and owner, said the start of the season was slower compared to previous years; however, March was busier than 2019.

“It’s been a tough year on everybody ... but we’re optimistic,” he said.

One business that didn’t suffer much during the pandemic is Consider the Cook. “We’ve been busy straight through,” said owner Dina Clason. “Last year nobody left Florida, and many people have moved here, fleeing New York and other northern cities.”

Purchases in her store ran the gamut from renovating or stocking new kitchens to the need for culinary tools during the pandemic because everybody had to eat at home, said Clason. “There’s been a lot of everything being cooked and baked. People needed all the utensils and pots and pans to do it with.”

Nancy Cook, The Twig Swim and Sportswear shop founder, said things have been great for her store during the first quarter of 2021. “The complexion of the purchases is a little different. People are buying more personal items, home goods and more casual wear than after-five dressy clothing.”

“We are so fortunate because Vero Beach is unique. This is as close to heaven as you can get till you get there,” she added.