BY MARCY SHORTUSE – Sometimes, change is good. Ronica Davis talked about change as she puttered around the new location for her business, Native Gardens, on East Railroad Avenue where she is scheduled to open in late September. In the last 15 years she has gone from waitressing to owning her own business, and to make it even sweeter she has been able to do it all on the island where she grew up.
Ronica had Native Gardens at the old location on Palm Avenue for 11 years, and sold her plants and flowers in a small space between The Galleria building and The Seale Family, Inc. Realty for two years prior. When she closed down this past June, she wasn’t sure what her game plan is … and it was a little scary. Reassurances from friends and family, who told her that everything would work out, were correct. She is currently moving Native Gardens into the space that Morsels used to occupy in the Railroad Plaza, and with a little help from her husband, Tex, and Ronica’s friend Sue Sligar, it is sure to be beautiful.
Ronica’s horticultural career began while she was waitressing at the Boca Bay Pass Club many years ago. She found herself taking care of all of the annual baskets there, which led to a few private jobs providing watering scheduling and services for island homeowners.
When she started growing her own annuals, she sold plants next to Tracy Bowe’s flower shop on Palm Avenue for a few months and helped her with deliveries. She got her first close look at floral arranging there, and was fascinated with the process.
Ronica said Chuck and Patricia Agles, who used to own The Galleria, provided her with a lot of support in the beginning as well, and at their request she opened what became Native Gardens.
“I was waiting tables at The Loose Caboose at night, and working with my plants during the day,” she said. “My daughter, Emilee, was only about five weeks old at the time. She grew up in a little swing in a tree there at the shop.”
Ronica’s new landlords bought her lease out at the old shop just a few months ago, which gave her an opportunity to step into the new location.
She will also carry her annuals and orchids, shade plants and a few hanging baskets. She will also be expanding her merchandise line to include gift items as well as plants and floral arrangements.
“I’ve got some amazing high-quality baby items, such as blankets and stuffed animals, and I will also be selling things like crystal perfume decanters, stationary, gift wrapping. We have ordered some items like purses, and might be carrying a few scarves. We’re hitting a show in New York later this week, so there’s no telling what we might bring back.”
Island resident and decorator Sue Sligar will be working with Ronica to maximize space in the new location, and to make it beautiful. They are changing their décor, their motif, even their signage.
“Our customers will have lots of unexpected surprises in store when they visit us,” she said. “I am so thankful to this community, the place I grew up, for supporting me with kind words and an overwhelming response to our move. They have always reassured me that everything would work out, and it really has.”
Ronica expects to be open at her new location, 480 E. Railroad Ave., #3 in late September.
Emily Wheeler, an island resident who owns three other shops on the island, is preparing to open her fourth store in Railroad Plaza. It will be called The Boca Grande Trading Company, and will feature merchandise with a Boca Grande theme.
Emily said Boca Grande clothing for men, women and children will be represented, as well as high-quality gifts and souvenirs.
She expects to open in mid-November in the space that the Boca Grande Area Chamber of Commerce used to occupy next to Sister’s Restaurant.
“We’re still getting everything together,” Emily said. “But it’s going to be a fun store.”
Emily also owns Salt and Before & Again in the Depot Building on Park Avenue, and she owns Aqua, located at 421 Park Avenue.
It has also been confirmed that Patrick’s Thai Bistro will be moving into the old Smokehaus location on Gasparilla Road at San Domingo. Some of you might know it as the old Pig & Whistle. Patrick Vollmer, the owner, said he hoped to ready to open sometime in October.
“It will be an Asian-Fusion restaurant with sushi, inventive American-Asian fusion, traditional Thai and Japanese like my old place, and a big giant bar for people to hang out at,” he said.
He has some ideas he’s toying with, such as having specialty nights and late-night menus, but he’s still working out the details.
His new name? He’s not sure. He will let everyone know, though, when everything is straightened out.
“I appreciated everyone who has ever been to our restaurant, and hope they would still support this new one,” he said. “I will still be a part of the community, and can’t wait to see how this venture turns out.”