Who says the luxury market is crumbling? In other parts of the country, the uncertain economy and billowing national deficit may be moderating consumer spending, but here in Sarasota, plenty of people are still pampering themselves with a wealth of luxury items.
They're just continuing a proud tradition, says Dr. Fred Strobel, Selby professor of economics at New College. "Luxury living in Florida has been going on since the '20s. We have an 80-year history of people with substantial amounts of money investing here." This "in-migration" of wealth enriches the entire community through real estate development, employment and a strong tax base.
The real estate boom of the last few years has been nothing short of phenomenal, with many waterfront properties doubling and more. And though real estate agents say it's no longer a seller's market, multi-million dollar homes are still in plenty of demand.
Sarasota also supports 10 luxury automobile dealerships-Palm Beach County, with a population three times larger, has only six.
And the wealth is not limited to successful retirees, says
Linda Dickson, gemologist for McCarver & Moser. She's selling pricey pieces to many young professionals. "Most have several homes all over the country," says Dickson. "They're savvy and educated about what they are buying."
Maybe it's just all part of the fabled Florida lifestyle, says Joe Hice of Wellcraft Marine, where boats can fetch more than half-a-million dollars. "In Florida, a good fishing boat is not an extravagance; it's a necessity," he insists (and he's only half-joking). Or maybe it's because of our sunny hospitality and service. "I have one customer who has a place in Milan, in London, Maryland and here," says Dickson. "She can buy that piece of jewelry anywhere, but she chooses to do it here because of our service."
Whatever the reasons, such free-spending shoppers are keeping Sarasota's luxury market alive and well. And when money is no object, what objects can your money buy? We sent our editors out looking for the most expensive items in town; here's their report from the field.
This 55-foot Hatteras Convertible is every fisherman's dream. For just $695,000, you can motor Gulf waters aboard an 870-horsepower engine. Dubbed "Code Blue" (and when isn't fishing a medical emergency?), she drafts a mere four feet, 10 inches, and has three staterooms with DVD/TVs throughout and a galley equipped with Sub-Zero appliances. Plus radar and a color fish finder, of course. Sarasota Yacht and Ship Services, Inc., 1306 Main St., Sarasota (941) 321-1705.
Nothing says luxury like stepping into the fragrant interior of a cigar shop and running a connoisseur's eye over boxes of hand rolled goodies. Clamp your fingers around one of these beauties from The Smoke Shop: the Opus X Double Corona ( 7 5/8 inches) or the Opus X Perfection (6 3/8 inches), both $30 per cigar, by Dominican Republic-based Fuente. The Smoke Shop, 106 Paradise Plaza, Sarasota (941) 955-6433.
For a $45,000 equity membership fee and annual dues of $4,626 per family, University Park Country Club is the chi-chi place to show off your croquet whites or impressive golf swing. The 27-hole championship golf course, designed by Ron Garl, has received numerous awards, including a 4-star rating by Golf Digest. The club's croquet association offers international instruction and tournament play, and Tennis Industry Magazine voted University Park Best Tennis Courts. University Park Country Club, 7671 Park Blvd., University Park (941) 355-3888.
BOSS (of a publicly held company)
Who says crime doesn't pay? Not James F. Slattery, president, chief executive officer and director of Correctional Services Corporation. Slattery co-founded the Sarasota-based operator of correctional facilities, which grossed more than $160 million last year. According to the Securities and Exchange Commission's last update, he earned $287,726 for his efforts. With a $200,000 bonus and $27,420 in additional compensation, that means Slattery took home $515,146.
Partners Horst and Colette Boesch have been clipping the locks of Sarasota's movers and shakers (and international visitors) in this très chic salon on St. Armands Circle since 1982. Their staff regularly travels to New York and London to stay up on the latest styles and techniques, and for $70 ($40 for men), they'll transform your look, too. Les Ciseaux, 6 St. Armands Circle, Sarasota (941) 388-2176.
Michael's On East executive chef John Zottoli and executive sous chef Brente Bevitori, can elevate anything into a fine dining experience, even the humble hamburger. While the basic burger costs $7.50, Bevitori says they also rustle up a $25.50 version with pan-seared foie gras and caramelized onions. The burger is served on a fresh-baked onion roll with shoestring potatoes, potato salad, or fruit. Michael's On East, 1212 East Ave. S., Sarasota (941) 366-0007.
When you see the marble foyer, the archway leading to the dining room that seats 12, and the hand-painted four-poster bed in the 2,450-square-foot Ritz-Carlton Suite at The Ritz Carlton Sarasota, you may never want to go back home. Before getting too comfortable in the whirlpool tub, or on the balconies overlooking Sarasota Bay or the marina, bear in mind that a night here will cost you a cool $2,000, this city's most expensive one-night rate. The Ritz-Carlton, Sarasota, 1111 Ritz-Carlton Drive, Sarasota (941) 309-2000.
What will $16.8 million get you in Sarasota? A spectacular 10,000-square-foot house on Lido Shores that you and your guests may never want to leave. Michael Saunders & Co. agent Kim Ogilvie has this listing for the Vick property, which overlooks the Gulf of Mexico. For that price, it doesn't-as we suspected-have buried treasure underneath, but the house does boast the Sarasota skyline as a backdrop, a rooftop terrace, a magical master suite and private pool area.
Now we know why diamonds are a girl's best friend: McCarver & Moser. This tony jewelry boutique is home to the area's most spectacular future wedding gift, a $354,900 natural fancy yellow 12.86-carat diamond ring. The starburst stone is flanked by two triangular white diamonds totaling 1.96 carats, all set in platinum above an 18-carat gold band. Keep out of direct sunlight unless wearing very dark shades. McCarver & Moser, 482 Ringling Blvd., St. Armands Circle (941) 388-3666.
Some Aussies from down under have imported this Australian concoction to the Ritz. First, line a chilled martini glass with paper-thin slices of salmon. Bathe in a generous pour of Fris vodka, then top with a dollop of prime caviar. The salmon martini may be an acquired taste, but at only $12.50, we think it's a bargain. The Ritz-Carlton, Sarasota, 1111 Ritz Carlton Drive, Sarasota (941) 309-2000.
Michael Massanelli learned the ropes while part of the U.S. Marine Corps, worked in Europe, Japan and California, and now trains many local trainers. He can start you off for $60 an hour, but an hour of advanced training with Massanelli should cost you $90. Michael Massanelli, (941) 321-9060.
The Haflingers at Willoughby Farms may sell for $2,000 to $15,000, but owner Larry Friedman bristles at the idea of judging his beloved horses by a dollar value. "Better is not more expensive," he gently chides. He describes his sturdy Haflingers (a small Austrian breed) as "feed me, love me, pet me" horses with only one catch: You can never own just one, especially when the parents who just bought one for their kids realize that the horse is such a good rider that they want one, too. Willoughby Farms, 1201 Sinclair Drive, Sarasota, (941) 379-5220.
Ever wonder what your pet is doing while you're away? If it goes to the $30-a-day Doggie Resort in the Woods, it's splashing in kiddie pools, partying with other animals in supervised, shaded woodlands, and resting in its own air-conditioned room. No kennels or crates will cage your beloved, who might not even miss you while you're gone. Doggie Resort in the Woods, 3300 Rustic Road, Nokomis (941) 480-1826.
The average cat sleeps 16 hours a day. Let yours snooze in style with this opulent bed. "The Oasis" ($930) features a sisal scratching post, satin-stitched palm leaves and breakaway catnip-filled coconuts. Pooch can recline on his own paw print chaise of curved fiberglass, embellished with coordinating bullion fringe, cord and trim. A mere $3,000. And you just know these will go fast. Both available at Wet Noses, 472 John Ringling Blvd., St. Armands Circle, (941) 388-3647.
PLASTIC SURGERY PROCEDURE
The lower body lift removes large amounts of skin and fat from the abdomen, hips, thighs and back, especially useful for those whose extreme weight loss has left them with yards of sagging skin. If you don't mind scars that resemble a lady's thong, this lift can provide you with an entirely new contour for $15,000.
It's the Florida fantasy come luxuriously to life: golfing and swimming in the same place. Elite-Weiler Pools built this $300,000 pool for a Casey Key house; it features a putting green along the edge and islands for sunbathing. The bottom is covered in a substance that makes the shallow end look like sand and the deep end like the depths of a Caribbean sea. The edges disappear into the bay, and the water collects in shallow troughs below, which double as children's play pools.
Sex in the City's Carrie Bradshaw may epitomize the female shoe fetish, but as George Morris of Reasons Shoes will tell you, the male of the species is just as likely to shell out big bucks to stay well-shod. Proof: $985 hand sewn crocodile driving moccasins by Moreschi that come in black or rust. Women can step out in Morris's evening shoe from Giuseppe Zanotti, a black sandal with a sterling silver fishbone running along the top of the foot. Price tag: $590. Reasons Shoes for Men and Women, 57 S Boulevard of Presidents, St. Armands (941) 388-1602.
To be as enviably chic as a sleek-tressed celeb, it takes a minimum of five hours-and $500. For that price, Ana Molinari will hook you up with a Japanese hair straightening Bio Ionic treatment in her spa. For five to six hours, at a cost of $100 an hour, a specially trained staffer will painstakingly straighten tiny sections of hair at a time through a mixture of chemicals and a special flat iron. Consider it a very decadent reverse perm. Molinari says that afterwards, the hair remains elegantly straight without blow drying, although the roots have to be straightened every six months. Ana Molinari, 52 Palm Ave. S., Sarasota (941) 365-1415.
Now that high-protein diets have achieved official redemption, indulge your inner hunter-gatherer with a $75, 40-ounce slice of prime USDA porterhouse, care of Ruth's Chris Steakhouse. It's broiled with salt and pepper and presented on a sizzling 500-degree plate with a generous dollop of butter. It serves two, so start handing out numbers to all your new best friends. Ruth's Chris Steakhouse, 6700 Tamiami Trail S., Sarasota (941) 924-9442.
TICKET IN TOWN
What does $1,000 buy you in Sarasota's charitable gala market? One ticket to the Opera's Opening Night Gala, including dinner, the Afterglow party, recognition in the night's program and preferred seating. Or the Asolo Theatre's Season Gala, which includes dinner, dancing and premier seating. And both tickets include that all-important tax deduction. Asolo Theatre Company (941) 351-9010; Sarasota Opera (941) 366-8450.