Celebrating the women who make Seaside a better place by Ann Lewis
The pioneer women of Seaside include not only the urban planners, architects and founders, but also those who have believed and participated in the type of town that encourages livability, community and entrepreneurship. These women fell in love with Seaside. And its spell has been cast on their lives indelibly.
Owner of The Art of Simple in Seaside and publisher of BeachLIFE magazine, Laura Granberry and her husband, Michael Granberry, moved to Old Seagrove from Atlanta in 2002 and opened their first shop in Grayton Beach. She, as a graphic designer and painter, coupled with Michael, a professional photographer, make an impressive creative team. In 2004, they moved into Ruskin Place, the mixed-use area of town where they opened a shop on the first floor and lived in their home above. “Urban meets the beach” is how Laura describes living in Ruskin Place. “What I loved is that we never ever got in our car,” she says. “My office was upstairs, the shop was downstairs, and I could ride my bike anywhere.” In a sense, she adds, it’s a place that inspires the entrepreneur in all of us.
What inspired The Art of Simple?
Our love for beautiful and unique things. The evolution of The Art of Simple has been a rollercoaster from the early days in Grayton Beach at the Shops of Grayton. But our love for beautiful and unique things has always remained. I tell people we are artists of the everyday who like to mix our love for antiques and art with everyday necessities.
And what about BeachLIFE?
BeachLIFE was the brainchild of our talents: my talent as a graphic designer and Michael’s 30+ years as a professional photographer. Mix in our love for this area, and you get BeachLIFE magazine.
How would you describe the Seaside lifestyle in one word?
Simple. It’s supposed to be simple. Robert, Daryl and I all agree that simpler is better. My store is The Art of Simple. Simple is a huge word for me.
What do you think of when you consider how far this town has come, how many people visit here and invest in the Seaside lifestyle?
My husband and I have always had a shared love for the beach and small Southern towns. We were attracted to the idea of a walkable, livable town in a beautiful setting. We were in awe of so much — the walking paths, the architecture and the people who owned and operated the businesses. Plus we loved that it was not perfectly manicured — time had added its patina to Seaside. Almost like a beautiful antique — one that had layers and layers of paint slowly worn away to create something uniquely its own. It had character — not only the architecture but the people as well.
Seaside back in the early 2000s was still the downtown of 30A to all the locals. Traffic was nonexistent, so it was easy to find a parking spot and enjoy all the wonderful businesses.
I think Seaside is a product of its own success. There is always the good with the bad. It is amazing to discover how famous Seaside has become. It attracts people from all over the world. But because of its fame, it has become a mecca to all who visit this area and a little of what I fell in love with has disappeared. But the visitor who comes to Seaside for the first time today doesn’t know what it was like 12 years ago. All they see is what it is now and they love it. This is true of myself. Back in 1998 when I first started visiting the area, I was in complete awe of Seaside. I wholeheartedly believe that if you invest in the Seaside lifestyle, you can’t go wrong. It’s a blue chip stock. Always has been and always will be.
What is the single most important attribute in differentiating good businesses from great ones?
Passion for your business and your customers. A very wise woman, Sarah Modica (co-founder of Modica Market in Seaside), once told Michael and me that to take our business to the next level, we needed to be present at our shop and get to know our customers. Our goal for The Art of Simple is to heed her advice, because I consider Modica Market to be a great business.
How did Seaside founders Robert and Daryl Davis guide you when you started The Art of Simple?
I would have to credit Robert and Daryl’s vision for the town planning, high standards for retail and their fostering of the arts in Seaside as being the biggest inspirations for Michael and me. While Seaside has certainly seen its share of change over the years, Robert and Daryl have infused a level of taste into every detail of Seaside’s design, from their own brand of Seaside Associated Stores to their commitment to the architecture and how it all connects back to the roots of new urbanism.
What are your principles for success in life?
Live simply, abundantly and love one another.
Diane Dorney, the director of the Seaside Institute, began attending Seaside planner and architect Andrés Duany’s seminars in Seaside in the mid-’90s. In 1993, she and her family moved to Kentlands, Md., an urban community like Seaside, also designed by Duany and his wife, architect Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk. Responding to her community’s need for information about urban planning, Dorney founded The Town Courier, which today has grown to a circulation of 7,000. As a rising star in urban planning and activism, she was asked to speak about Kentlands at a women’s conference in Seaside in 1995. At that time, Seaside was the only hub for seminars and workshops on new urbanism for people all over the country. Given her success with her community paper, she was asked to create a national one focused on urban planning development, The Town Paper, to inform readers about what urban planning is and how it affects them. In 2010, she was named the director of the Seaside Institute to further foster a sense of community and learning for visitors and locals.
When did you discover your passion for new urbanism?
When I moved to Kentlands. It had a handful of houses and a new urbanist town plan created by Duany Plater-Zyberk & Company. Joseph Alfandre, the original developer of the town, lost the project to the bank. As a result, the bank formed a development corporation to supervise the build-out of the plan. When a Walmart was proposed for the town center, several citizen activists, including me, were adamant about keeping the original town plan intact, and with the city’s backing, forced the bank to build out the plan as envisioned with a town center instead of the proposed Walmart.
What was Seaside founders Robert and Daryl Davis’ intent for the Seaside Institute?
At the institute, we do something for the larger community, including workshops for the arts — writing, plein air and drawing. The idea is to provide the community an educational piece. That was always Robert and Daryl’s idea from the beginning — an educational component for the adults as well.
How has new urbanism changed over the years?
While the concept has stayed the same, the build-out of the town centers has changed over the years. Now there are more communities constructed by one developer and a limited number of builders, which results in a place that can look more contrived. Most of these types of communities were built when the building boom was going on. The slower evolution of towns like Seaside and Kentlands looks more real and homey to me. But they all serve the same purpose — everything you need is right there.
How has Seaside changed over the years?
It’s everything I thought it would be except that it doesn’t have a year-round community. It became a great marketing piece. I don’t think new urbanism would have taken off the way it did without Andrés’ seminars and the application of new urbanism around them. We needed a Seaside. In the beginning, there were all kinds of places to stay for $75 a night to attend the seminars. Over time, it became successful and got more expensive. There was no affordable housing for workshops. That is why we built the Academic Village, which has been operating fully for the last two years.
How has the Seaside Institute’s role changed since its inception in 1982?
We still have the Seaside Prize. During Homeowners Weekend, we have a speaker on new urbanism as it relates to our town. Robert and Daryl are interested in starting a transportation line between Seaside and the airport. A mobility workshop is planned for October to address how to make that a reality. Workshops on new urbanism play an important role in the institute but are no longer a full-time need. There was always a dream that civic life would be a really big part of Seaside. Eventually, my goal in Seaside is to take a whole vacation and add an educational component (similar to Chautauqua, N.Y.). Eventually I would like to offer that in Seaside. I think that would be a really nice addition. It takes a comprehensive goal. If I can make that happen, I would be thrilled.
How would you describe the Seaside Community?
Seaside offers community but in a different way. Escape to Create, Seaside’s artist residency program, offers its own community. When the artists come, their community becomes the homeowners and the other artists. By the time each artist leaves, Seaside is a second home. People who vacation here year after year see the same faces. In some ways, they have more of a sense of community here than they might at home. Another group who belongs to Seaside is the new urbanists, who have studied here, who remember it affectionately as the town that changed their lives and put them on their paths today.
What is the Seaside Lifestyle?
Casual. That’s what I do love about it. In a lot of places, a convention, conference or workshop is pretty formal. In Seaside, people can put on shorts and flip-flops and live and work in them all summer. Whatever you do in Seaside, it will fit it into your routine. That’s what I love about it.
What’s the single most important factor in differentiating good organizations from great ones?
Creativity. There is a good business that does what it does well, but does not have the ability to evolve. But to take what you do well and be able to adapt over time makes a business or organization great. The Seaside Institute started offering cultural events because that is what the town needed — children’s events, plays, pony rides. In its evolution, it has transformed how it has served the community and even now, asks what needs the community has and how we can make that happen.