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FINALLY! Fresh Market opens in Vero Beach
BY MICHELLE GENZ - STAFF WRITER (Week of September 3, 2009)

It was 7:30 in the morning. Two women, perfectly dressed, were tootling along, pushing their shopping carts like prams in the park. In the corner of the baskets were a dozen pink roses, propped upright in a plastic flower bucket that the store hooks to the edge of the carts.

They were the first floats in a parade that will likely continue for weeks, as word filters out just how much fun it can be to order a couple of Hereford steaks for dinner.

These first two customers of Vero’s Fresh Market were the first link in what is destined to become Vero’s fashionable food chain. Their exchange with the obviously highly-trained Fresh Market butcher, flown in from corporate headquarters in North Carolina, marked the initiation of a sequence of events that would turn a simple act of nurture into a grand gesture of civilized society.

Fresh Market makes high art of the chore of going to the store. But the chain here extends beyond the bounteous bins of produce, the mosaics of vegetables gleaming like marble sculpture, the endless aisle of shelled nuts — only nuts! — in open barrels, that forces you to rethink their status: essentials.

The decision to place such a high-end retailer in our midst was long in coming. Bitter as we all have been at Vero’s pushpin being left off the demographic maps of the sellers of goods we can so obviously afford and appreciate, on reflection, Fresh Market will likely have a larger impact on life here.

The phantom Saks we were sure we would get 20 years ago for our mall-to-be — whispers that morphed into Neiman- Marcus, and finally Nordstrom – saw us jolted back to ordinariness when we finally were forced to face the bricks-andmortar reality of the stultifying Penney’s, Burdine’s and Sears when the mall arrived in 1996.

But this is different. Better than a source for a trendy pair of shoes might have been, or the pick-me-up of a fuschia lipstick, a high-end food market affords us the luxury of transforming a quotidian task into high art. The grocery list in our fists becomes a palette by the store’s sheer beauty and originality, its products the medium for a nightly masterpiece of a meal.

This is a destination that will spawn endless inspiration.

Never again can anyone say there is nothing to do in Vero. No more is there nowhere to go, nothing to dress up for. The very act of grocery shopping is now an event, a see-and-be-seen social scene whose very presence makes us want to throw a party.

The Fresh Market has opened the automatic door to a whole slew of social activities evolved of the very primal act of finding food to feed ourselves.

From throwing a skin over our shoulders to step out of the hut to pinch a few berries from a bush, to dressing up in heels and full make-up to pay homage to fromages et charcuteries.

For years, it was my standard retort: whenever I bought something impractically chic in Miami or Palm Beach, and people would ask where in the world I would ever wear it in Vero. I would say, “The Miracle Mile Publix.” And I meant it.

Though I worked from home, I could put on a Chanel suit and pretend I just left the office. Chiffon with spaghetti straps? I was picking up something for a cocktail party. Something 2-2-2, as my friend describes our mutual taste for dressing on the edge — too tight, too short, too young? Then I could pretend I was an out-of-towner, and not constricted by the edicts of Vero’s conservative culture.

Thirty years ago, I moved here from Georgetown. There, the local grocery on Wisconsin Avenue was known by the locals as the “Social Safeway,” because it was where everyone shopped to see and be seen.

I had no real conception of how important a place like that could be. Dressing up and going out was a part of my daily routine. I had a job, and a morning commute. I had friends who went out for drinks after work.

But in Vero Beach, I worked from home, telecommuting in the earliest days of PC modems while writing for the Miami Herald. I was the rare working mom among my friends, most of whom left careers elsewhere to come to Vero and raise their children. It was a choice made largely by default; there were so few good jobs for women here.

That meant we had no excuse to spend money on working wardrobes. If Vero had had more jobs, particularly high-paying jobs for women, it would have propped up a retail economy that has only recently begun to take off beachside, and still struggles mightily at the malls west of town.

The seismic shift in the social scene brought about by the two new Ocean Drive hotels is also cause for celebration in the retail sector. People are in fact dressing up – witness the pair of visitors from Cocoa who drove down for Salsa Night at Costa d’Este: one wore a sequined tunic over fish-net flare-leg pants, the other had four-story platform shoes.

People are expecting to be seen now. Happy hours and special nights for special entertainment are forming habits for certain circles, who can anticipate acquaintances will show up at one venue or another, and plan ahead to meet up.

The local restaurants that once catered to tourists and retirees are looking at a younger local clientele, demanding more interesting menus with trendier cuisine. Where they once shut down at 9, they are edging their hours upwards. It is no longer inconceivable that 7-Elevens and the Taco Bell drive-through may soon see competition for late night dining.

Today, sales help in local beach boutiques can suggest an actual place to wear something – unheard of even a short time ago, when, even when we did want something new, we drove out of town to buy it. The cycle of dullness breeding more dullness, and us taking our business elsewhere, may be breaking.

People who got used to not having anything to do in Vero may have to reconsider. And we should all reassess our wardrobes. Whatever worked at the Miracle Mile Publix is probably not going to cut the mustard, or the cornichons, at our Fresh Market. Finally!