By John Nelander
February 10, 2019 / Palm Beach Daily News
A taste of old Florida lies tucked away off South Ocean Boulevard, a shop that sells citrus, plastic orange peelers and alligator pencils.
The store’s owner, Palm Beacher Inger Anderson, is celebrating her 40th anniversary this season with Palm Beach Groves – the business she and her husband bought in 1978.
The business itself, with accompanying orange groves in western Boynton Beach, goes back to 1947. These days, the small store, a part of the Ambassador Hotel complex at 2730 S. Ocean Blvd. resembles one of the old Florida souvenir shops tourists once found up and down the state’s East Coast.
Brightly colored casual and beach clothing is the number two seller, but Florida citrus is still the name of the game, both juice and whole fruit that is often shipped to friends and relatives of seasonal visitors and tourists.
The story goes like this: Anderson’s late husband, banker H. Loy Anderson Jr., was driving down Lawrence Road in western Boynton Beach with a friend in real estate when they spotted an orange grove for sale. At the time, Lawrence was "a little country road," Anderson said. “My husband’s friend said, how would you like to get into this business?” Anderson recalled in an interview at the Ambassador shop.
“And my husband said OK, run the numbers.”
But running an orange grove turned out to have its challenges. "One day my husband said to me, ‘It's really lacking some ownership mentality. Why don't you start going out there?’ I started going out there and next thing you know I'm ten feet deep into it."
The original purchase was 100 acres but the Andersons eventually trimmed it to 20 acres with a 1,500-square-foot packing house and gift shop.
“We had a big juice room,” she said, “and Palm Beach Day Academy would come out for field trips. It was a great tourist attraction."
The business operates from Nov. 1 to May 1 and when it was on Lawrence there was a big seasonal opening. Jimmy Buffett wrote a song in the 1990s about a band that played for one of the grove’s openings called Bob Robert’s Society Band.
The last piece of grove land off Lawrence Road, now the site of sprawling suburban development east of Military Trail, was sold in 2003. But Palm Beach Groves has continued uninterrupted with stores in Lantana, West Palm Beach, and Palm Beach.
"We have a very loyal customer base that's followed us everywhere,” said Sandy Andreasen, customer service manager. “From Lawrence Road to East Ocean and here. They stay with us.”
The citrus industry in Florida doesn’t have the juice that it once did. Citrus canker and other diseases have taken a toll. And the medical profession has issued warnings about grapefruit consumption interfering with statins, antihistamines and other drugs.
Still, there’s something about citrus that says Florida, and tourists and seasonal residents remain faithful to the tangy-sweet vitamin C-packed fruits and juices.
"People buy gifts to take back, and thank people for plowing their driveway while they were gone," Andreasen said.
Online sales and corporate gift baskets are a big part of the business now. But locals and visitors still walk in to buy fruit and juice – the shop contracts with groves in Central Florida for their products and packing services – and occasionally they pick up one of the kitschy souvenirs, like the 75-cent plastic “citrus sipper” you can stick into an orange so you can tap juice directly from the fruit.
“It's very handy when you go to the beach," said Louisa McQueeney, general manager. “People miss these old Florida stores and the old classics,” she said.
Susan Ticknor, who owns a condo at the Ambassador and stops in regularly for orange juice, says the shop “has a warmth and funkiness that’s very inviting. I like their taste.”
McQueeney and Andreasen have longtime associations with Anderson and Palm Beach Groves. The business used to have a presence at the old Palm Beach International Airport. And when they had a booth at the 1979 South Florida Fair, Andreasen dressed up as an orange.
“I walked around the fair and scared children,” she joked. “It was warm in there, I do remember that."
Photo by John Nelander
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