By Jane Bartnett
Casa Smeralda, a Siesta Key women’s clothing boutique whose name translates into a house on the emerald coast of Sardinia, Italy, will celebrate its second anniversary on the Key this spring.
Formerly of St. Armand’s Circle, the shop is situated in the heart of Siesta Key Village at 5121 Ocean Blvd. Specializing in fashion-forward women’s clothing, accessories and footwear designed for life at the sea, all of Casa Smeralda fashions are created from fluid fabrics, silks and linens.
The designs are made in the continental U.S. and Hawaii, as well as Italy, Canada, Nepal, India and Indonesia. Reflecting the store’s international flair and Swiss-born owner Marie-Louise Leuenberger’s heritage, the words “Hello, Aloha, Hola, Gruezi, Bonjour, Hallo and Ciao” greet shoppers as they enter the store.
Looking back on the challenges that she faced in opening an established store in a new location as businesses were forced to close their doors during the early days of the pandemic, Leuenberger said that she relied on her long career in the fashion and business world to guide her.
“I anticipated that the closings would not go on forever. I also had a business reserve that helped to carry us through,” she said.
“During my career, I’ve run several stores and other businesses. Before coming to the United States, I lived in Africa where I designed and sold clothes. I’m a small boutique. I know my customers and I’ve worked with my vendors for many years.”
She then added, thoughtfully, “Getting through that early period of 2020 would have been much more difficult for any new business owner. Experience helps at times such as these.”
The move from St. Armand’s Circle, where Casa Smeralda was based for 13 years, to Siesta Key was a business decision that Leuenberger had been considering for some time. When she saw that the Ocean Boulevard space across the street from Davidson Plaza in Siesta Key was available, she made her move. Relocating the store was a personal and business decision.
“Since I live on the Key, I can ride my bike to work and I left the commute to St. Armand’s behind,” she said.
From a financial perspective, she noted that “We sold the property on the Circle, reduced our store size and our customers still find the fine quality and selection that they’ve come to know here. Many new people have also discovered us here on the Key and our longstanding customers from St. Armand’s still shop with us.
“On an environmental level, being here, we’ve reduced our CO2 output. It’s much better for the environment. Nature is very important to me.”
During the past two years, the veteran businesswoman and fashion expert has seen a slight shift in the way that people shop.
“People are more cautious about their purchases and the way that they make decisions about their own economic situation,” she said. “Fine quality, sustainability and craftsmanship remain very important to our customers.”
Looking ahead to the new year, Leuenberger says that despite the ongoing pandemic facing the world she said she is “hopeful about the future, for her business and for Siesta Key.”
When she and her husband first came to Siesta Key in 1989 from Switzerland, the couple discovered the sleepy beach hamlet while visiting their son, a tennis player and student who was attending the Nick Bollettieri Tennis Academy in Bradenton. The couple were enchanted by Siesta Key and decided to make it their home.
After searching for a local business that they could buy and operate, the couple purchased the Tropical Breeze Motel. After a complete renovation, they expanded the facility and sold the motel in 2000. In the following years, they owned and operated several more small, local businesses.
In 2007, Leuenberger opened Casa Smeralda on St. Armand’s Circle.
As the owner of a successful business with a loyal following, Leunberger is optimistic about the future. Despite the challenges that Siesta Key and the world faced, Casa Smeralda had a successful past two years.
“Being here on Siesta Key has been better for my business and for my life,” Leunberger said. “As a designer, I find inspiration on our beautiful beaches and by living and working here in our Village.
“I am also committed to offering our customers at Casa Smeralda quality, sustainability and provenance. I find that Siesta Key has the same Mediterranean feel as the emerald green coast of Sardinia, the inspiration for our name.”