By Karin Fabry • Photos By Steve Floethe
I recently spent an afternoon exploring the meandering streets, sampling some of the new restaurant offerings, and checking into the entertainment options at Lake Sumter Landing, The Villages newest town square. Here’s what I found.
I’ve heard The Villages referred to as a Disney World for adults and I couldn’t agree more. The never-ending options for shopping, dining, and entertainment are enough to keep grownups busy for quite some time, much like a 10-year-old who can’t get enough of Space Mountain.
After much planning and developing, The Villages newest grand-scale venture, Lake Sumter Landing, is open for business. It should quickly become the area’s hottest “E” ticket attraction.
Driving from Ocala, visitors can enter Lake Sumter Landing via Hwy. 466. A long bridge winds its way over an impressive body of water. Once to the opposite side of the bridge, it was like I left Central Florida all together and took a step into a weathered beachside villa. The Marketplace, as it’s called, takes shoppers and diners back to a simpler time in Florida. The colorful Key West-style decor resembles an old fishing village, weathered by age and salt water.
“This is really amazing,” Dale Wariner of Summerfield says. “My wife and I came down to explore the area and see what was going on. The décor and the feel of this place are great. Only The Villages can pull something like this off. I seriously feel like I’m in Key West.”
The nautical, bait-and-tackle theme continues throughout the square. Fish netting, anchors, boat paddles, and antique signs are scattered decoratively throughout the landing.
And, of course, the water is never far away! Visitors can venture down to the water and wander through a series of connected docks and piers. The night view is spectacular with gentle lantern lights that glow overhead, casting dancing shadows on the water. Dock chairs and red tables lend the perfect place to read a book, eat a snack, or just visit with friends and listen to the endless music from The Villages radio station, WVLG.
Let me tell you, the musical sounds of WVLG are almost ghostly. No matter where I went, Frank Sinatra’s “My Way” could be heard — even over the various construction noises in the background. What’s better is that there was no sign of a large-scale speaker system to make the music possible. It was just there.
Visitors to the landing can easily make a day of it. I know I could. I enjoyed strolling the quaint streets, window shopping, and, of course, eating. Even though Lake Sumter Landing is still a work-in-progress, there’s plenty to see and do! Here are some of the highlights:
The Orange Barn’s Ambrosia
Ocala-based owners Leslie and Earl Scales, along with George and Harriet Scales, are no strangers to the citrus industry.
“Our family has been in the citrus business in Marion County since the 1800s,” Leslie says, “and since Lake Sumter Landing is designed to look like an old Florida town, what better business to have than a citrus business?”
The Orange Barn sells fresh, Florida citrus fruits, as well as freshly squeezed OJ. Browse all kinds of jellies, jams, condiments, and candies, all made from tropical fruits!
“We even carry a line of wines made from Florida and other tropical fruits,” Leslie adds. “They’re very different from your standard wines. The wine actually takes on the taste of whatever fruit was made to use it. They’re delicious.”
Shoppers can also ship fresh Florida fruits throughout the United States and to 13 countries in Europe.
Southern Accents on Market Square
If you’re a fan of Southern Lifestyles, The Villages fine furniture and home décor store, then pay a visit to Southern Accents on Market Square. A huge selection of unique and fine collectibles is available. This is a great place to shop for that hard-to-buy-for person on your list.
Market Square Mercantile
Anything and everything Villages! If you’re looking for something with The Villages logo on it, you’re guaranteed to find it here.
If you’re looking for something unique and comfortable to add to your wardrobe, the Nantucket Bay clothing store is a must-see. Dianne Dorman’s popular line of crushable linen hats and hand-painted sweaters and sandals are just a few of the items that will be available.
Other clothing lines the store carries are Cottonseed, Ezeewear, and Cot’n Gear. These brands boast both style and comfort and the lightweight fabric, which comes in a variety of striking colors, can easily be mixed and matched.
At Nantucket Bay, shoppers can choose from a great selection of truly one-of-a-kind jewelry pieces made by artists from as far away as Hawaii and Las Vegas.
The shop in the Lake Sumter Landing’s Marketplace is one of two in the state of Florida. The other is located on Anna Maria Island.
The Bead Bar
Vintage is in! The Bead Bar has thousands of loose beads for customers to choose from, some vintage and some replicas of centuries-old beads. Do you have an idea for the perfect necklace or bracelet? The talented staff at the Bead Bar can you help you turn your idea into a specially made piece of jewelry.
Customers have several options at this shop. On a lazy afternoon, pick out the beads of your choice and stay to create your one-of-a-kind masterpiece using the expertise and creativity of the store’s employees. Or customers can purchase loose beads to take home.
For those interested in the craft of jewelry making, The Bead Bar will offer a variety of classes, ranging from basic stringing to more complicated jewelry design techniques. The Bead Bar has operated a store in Orlando for the past 14 years.
The Purple Pig
We all have that hard-to-shop-for person on our gift-giving lists. The Purple Pig may have just what you’re looking for. This gift and home decor shop carries a vast selection of collectibles, lamps, and dolls. For our furry friends, the store offers a complete line of pet-related items, everything from gourmet puppy treats to comfy kitty beds. The Purple Pig also has a great selection of Red Hat and Golf items.
Arden’s Fine Jewelers
Like the name implies, Arden’s carries fine gems, jewelry, and silver. In keeping with the theme of Lake Sumter Landing, many of the pieces in Arden’s Fine Jewelers feature a nautical motif, including treasure coins from shipwrecks. These coins come complete with a certificate of authenticity.
Wild Bird Center
The Wild Bird Center is your resource for backyard bird-watching and -feeding. This specialty shop offers a complete line of products to help you enjoy wild birds and foster a healthy backyard habitat.
The Wild Bird Center carries exclusive blends of seed that have been field-tested and are guaranteed to attract a large variety of birds. Feeders, birdbaths, nest boxes, books, and other gifts for wild bird lovers are also available.
Lewis Lighthouse Bar & Grille
One of the most popular dishes has quickly become the Malibu Grouper ($11.99), which consists of grouper fingers rolled in cornflakes, macadamia nuts, and coconut flakes. Once fried to a golden crisp, this dish is served with a sweet, yet tart, pineapple tartar sauce. For the non-seafood lover, The Boardwalk ($8.99) is a striped ribeye with grilled onions cooked Philly style and served on a hoagie roll. To die for!
Owner Robin Lewis says his restaurant will appeal to every taste.
“We have a great variety of dishes and we provide our guests with a fun atmosphere,” he says. “We’re open a little later than some of the other establishments, allowing us to have live music outside under the lighthouse.”
For all-American food, visit Johnny Rockets. Juicy burgers and hot dogs, a variety of club sandwiches, including egg salad, chicken, grilled cheese, a BLT, and more.
• R.J. Gators: Florida Sea Grill & Bar: Choose from garden fresh salads, specialty sandwiches, from-the-grill entrees, and a fresh catch of the day.
• Dominic’s Ristorante: A full-service, upscale (yet casual), Italian restaurant that will serve lunch and dinner.
• Bravo Pizza: A dine-in or take-out restaurant serving freshly prepared pastas, pizzas, and salads.
Old Mill Playhouse
I’m a movie buff, so I had to check out the area’s newest first-run movie theater, The Old Mill Playhouse. The Playhouse is state-of-the-art with the latest in high-tech video equipment and Dolby digital surround sound. The movie trailers are on DVD and are loaded into a computer system that is then routed to the big screen below. But the décor — everything from the employee’s dress to the flashing playbills outside — was reminiscent of taking a step into an old-time movie house. And that’s just what they were going for!
As I walked up to the front doors, a very friendly usher opened the door for me and welcomed me with, “Good afternoon, young lady.” Once inside, the theater was like no other I had ever seen. You won’t find spilled popcorn buckets, overflowing trash cans, or sticky floors at the Old Mill Playhouse. Instead, visitors are welcomed with deep blue and red décor, lush carpeting, and impeccable cleanliness. The enormous lobby area comes complete with small tables arranged in intimate groupings. A gold tin roof beautifully reflects the ambient cove lighting that runs the perimeter of the space. This eight-screen theater is just as beautiful, if not more beautiful than the neighboring Rialto Theater, and both are founded on good, old-fashioned customer service.
Right outside the front doors is a convenient ticket vestibule where moviegoers can purchase tickets using a credit card through an automated window. Talk about the ultimate in convenience!
This paint-your-own-pottery studio is a must for any resident or visitor to The Villages. The atmosphere, with its bright red, green, and purple walls, lends itself to creativity. For a small studio fee (which includes use of all paints, stencils, stamps, etc.), plus the cost of a chosen piece, customers can sit back, relax, and let their inner-artist take over.
“I’ve had people spend six hours here,” owner Denise Christmas says. “We do birthday parties, club events, showers, all kinds of things. We’ve had a great response so far and I can only imagine it getting better. We’ve felt very welcomed here.”
If You Go
To visit Lake Sumter Landing, take CR 466 South to Morse Boulevard. Turn south onto Morse and travel over the bridge.
By Karin Fabry • Photos By Steve Floethe