The vision of linking residents to shopping, amenities and services Villages-wide achieved another milestone last week when workers set the second bridge across State Road 44.
Motorists traveling on SR 44 near Rohan Recreation Center can’t miss the new gateway — the second of four major bridges to be placed in its permanent home in the community’s southern region.
Once completed, the Chitty Chatty Bridge will connect to the recreation center, Lake Deaton Plaza, Brownwood Paddock Square, the villages of Chitty Chatty, Bradford and others, as well as an 18-hole championship Southern Oaks golf course.
The Chitty Chatty, Brownwood and Water Lily bridges are progressing through phases of construction, with all necessary approvals obtained to move forward with completion in the coming months.
The Brownwood Bridge, located a few miles west of the Chitty Chatty Bridge, was set in place last August also over SR 44. It’s designed to connect all things Brownwood and everything else north of SR 44 to the other side of the highway, leading to a system of trails and pathways that will lead to another bridge being built over Florida’s Turnpike.
That turnpike bridge, called the Water Lily Bridge, will connect residents to the community on the west side of the turnpike, landing in the Village DeLuna near the Water Lily Recreation Area.
A second turnpike bridge, called the Bexley Bridge, will connect residents to future amenities east and west of Marsh Bend Trail (formerly County Road 501) and south of Warm Springs Avenue.
Also: Several small businesses in The Villages experienced strong customer traffic last week, when Gov. Ron DeSantis relaxed COVID-19 restrictions on retailers and restaurants. Rosalyn Housley and her staff, for instance, sold 735 items over a four-day period at her Rustic Rose home decor and gift store at Brownwood. Some customers, many of them longtime patrons, spent in excess of $2,000 each to decorate their homes. During the prior weekend, Housley, of the Village of Fenney, opened her store to appointments only. And customers spent freely, she said. “We had much higher average per day of sales than a typical May day in the six and half years we’ve been here,” Housley said. “We’re so thankful. We have a mask for you and hand sanitizer at the door. We’re cleaning constantly to keep it a safe environment for you and us. I even bought several thousand face masks, but surprisingly most people are wearing their own.”
Also: Longtime patrons also pushed sales upward last week at the Purple Pig, a specialty gift, home decor and pet supplies store at Lake Sumter Landing. A line of customers waited outside Tuesday for the store to open, said store owner Debbie Heiner, of the Village of Caroline. By the end of the Wednesday, Heiner sold out of 1,500 medical grade facial masks and hand sanitizer that she specially ordered. “We did about $1,000 in sales on Wednesday, but only $317 was in personal care,” she said. “The day before, Tuesday, we did $1,800 worth of sales, and $1,500 was in personal care. We now have people prepaying for masks.” The customer response to her gift, decor and pet supply inventory motivated Heiner to resume orders. “I am ordering cautiously, but I went back and contacted all my vendors that I had delayed my orders,” she said. “So, I called them all back up and to ship everything to me. So, I’m getting in all these orders from February for my spring and summer inventory.”
Also: Rustic Rose and Purple illustrate the importance of small businesses in The Villages. More than 2,000 mostly small businesses operated in The Villages metropolitan statistical area as of the third quarter 2019, according to the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics. That is a 30% five-year increase. Those businesses employed an average 26,082 workers in the quarter, a 25% five-year increase. Total wages recorded for the third quarter also are on pace to set another annual record. Wages in the third quarter were 80% of the annual total, increasing 46% over the previous five years.
Also: Those small businesses, and the customers who patronize them, contribute mightily to The Villages MSA economy. Small business throughout the United States accounts for about 99% of the economy, according to the U.S. Small Business Administration. In 2019, small businesses produced $3.43 billion in gross sales in the MSA, a year-over-year increase of 5.2%, according to the Florida Department of Revenue. General merchandise stores sold the most at $463 million, followed by food and beverage, $362 million; manufacturing, $348 million; lumber and other building materials, $346 million; wholesale dealers, $288 million; and restaurants and catering, $215 million.