When you grow up in Iowa, like I did, Spring Break is a big deal. It’s still very cold in March in Iowa so going somewhere warm is also a big deal. Every March my family packed up and headed to Florida for eleven days of beachy, sunshiny bliss! As it turns out, I ended up falling in love with a man who lives in the very same town my family spent so many years vacationing. We got married, and now I live in that beachy, sunshiny town. It’s like being on vacation forever, right?!
Vero Beach is a lovely little town with a renowned art museum and performing arts theater. Gloria Estefan owns a swanky hotel on the beach called Costa d’Este, there are one-of-a-kind boutiques and some pretty amazing restaurants, as well as multi-million dollar homes (of course). Most of what I just mentioned is located on Orchid Island, which is a barrier island separated from the mainland by the Intracoastal Waterway known as the Indian River Lagoon. The Indian River Lagoon ‘is the most biodiverse lagoon ecosystem in the Northern hemisphere and is home to more than 3,000 species of plants and animals’ (Wikipedia), kinda mind-blowing right?! We also boast the first federally protected wildlife refuge founded in 1903 by President Theodore Roosevelt, Pelican Island National Wildlife Refuge, which is home to roughly a dozen different endangered species. Then there’s the beach itself and all of the activities you can do on the water; kayaking, paddleboarding, airboat rides, fishing, scuba diving, surfing, it’s seemingly endless. More than one-fourth of all sea turtles nest on our shores every year and during June and July, you can go on sea turtle nesting tours where you just might see one of these amazing creatures lay their eggs with your own eyes! As you can see, there are a wide array of activities for almost anyone to enjoy.
Another thing people cherish about Vero is the small-town vibe that is still inherent here, as opposed to most of the seaside towns and cities in Florida. There is a city-wide mandate that prohibits anything from being built higher than four stories, so you won’t find any high-rises blocking the view or casting shadows across the beach in the afternoon. Many tourists flock to places like Miami, Orlando, Tampa and The Keys but we don’t get those kinds of crowds. Don’t get me wrong, we get plenty of tourists but you can also take a walk on the beach and see only a handful of other people enjoying the surf and sand.
However, if you’re looking for the culture and nightlife of those larger cities – Vero is not for you. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, we are not very diverse and have a pretty high population of the older persuasion; 30% of the people living in the county are 65 years or older and our African-American population hovers around nine percent. You won’t find many (any?) dance clubs but if seedy, hole-in-the-wall bars are your thing we’ve got plenty of those! Oh wait, I’m not talking about Orchid Island anymore. Nightlife on Orchid Island is limited to restaurants and the bars within them. There are a few that provide live music, but Vero’s Beachside Retailer’s Association (who caters to ‘affluent customers’) are currently trying to ban the ‘obnoxious noise’.
Yes, Vero Beach has remained a quaint seaside village filled with natural beauty and enriched with world-class arts and entertainment. It was built by and for the wealthy residents and the wealthy tourists. Our economy is centered around hospitality and healthcare – hospitality including retail and restaurants, of course. It’s a wonderful place to bring your family or take a relaxing romantic getaway with that special someone. Living here, however, is far from a full-time vacation.
Many people assume that when you live close to the beach you get to spend ample amounts of time enjoying it. Wrong. No matter where you live you still have to earn money, which generally requires working at least part-time. When you live close to the beach real estate is not cheap, even if you’re renting, so the part-time job that might suffice in some places probably needs to be full-time here. Life in general gets in the way with all of its obligations and its exhausting nature. It’s one thing when you’re staying at a resort on the beach and all you have to do is lotion up and walk out your door. It’s quite another when you have to pack up the car, drive twenty minutes to get there, battle for parking, unload the car, spend a few hours surrounded by tourists, pack the car up, drive another twenty minutes home, unpack the car… the oasis that is the beach is a little less magical when it takes so much work to get there and back.
In 2013 Vero Beach had the widest income gap in the entire country. That means we had the wealthiest people (mainly over on Orchid Island) and the poorest people (living on the mainland or homeless) living in our city, with a poverty rate of 17.2% (24/7 Wall St.). We are no longer in the top ten cities on that list but it still gives you an idea of the demographics we are dealing with. Finding a good, well-paying job is a full-time job in itself when you live here. The economy is largely influenced by the tourist season, which occurs when it is cold in other parts of the country and still warm here in Florida – winter. Hospitality, retail, and even healthcare businesses take a hit during the summer months and often don’t require as much staff as they do during the winter. So, finding steady employment can be a challenge. Finding a ‘career’ is even more difficult, and that’s coming from someone with a bachelor’s degree!
I thought that living in a resort town, the one I grew up coming to with my family on vacation, would be like living in my own slice of paradise. I have learned that real life is nothing like a vacation, no matter where you live. In all likelihood, I will never live in one of those fancy houses on the beach, where you get to wake up and fall asleep to the sound of the waves crashing against the sand. You have to take the bad with the good, and sometimes there is more bad than we would like. I will gladly take the overwhelmingly hot summers over sifting through snow in the winter. More than anything, though, I get to spend my life with the man I fell in love with in a town my family still loves to come visit.