Places—neighborhoods—have personalities. Sometimes, they even have more than one. Take Mercato. By morning, this North Naples mixed-use community is sleepy. Quiet. Even deserted, with only a few people out strolling the sidewalks, en route to their first sip of coffee at Second Cup or an early sun salutation at Yoga Loft. But return in a few hours, and you’ll find the feeling a bit changed: Cars and SUVs slide slowly through the Whole Foods parking lot, stalking the ever-elusive high-season parking spot, while shoppers trickle in and out of the stores and salons. Suited professionals settle into eateries such as The Counter or Stage Deli, squeezing in a sandwich or salad on their lunch break. This is Mercato at midday: polished, but not afraid to show off its casual side.
By evening, it’s an entirely different scene. Music thumps through the open doors of perennial p.m. hot spot Blue Martini, and smoke wafts through the windows of cigar bar Burn. Moviegoers file in and out of the Silverspot theater, dissecting the film they’ve just seen, or deciding where to go for dinner and drinks. This is Mercato by moonlight: lively and loud, a completely other character from its morning self.
It’s that contrast, combined with convenience, that makes Mercato so alluring for those who choose to call this neighborhood their home.
‘Our little oasis’
The Ricottas live in the gated Residences at Mercato.
Live, work, play. That was the promise Mercato made when it broke ground in 2008. Originally developed as a partnership between the Lutgert and Barron Collier companies, the 52-acre property aimed to give would-be residents and commercial tenants a place where they could enjoy a more urban environment than anything that currently existed in Naples. (In 2011, Madison Marquette joined the Lutgert and Barron Collier companies as the third owner of Mercato.)
Whole Foods was the first retailer to open, followed by food and drink destinations such as The Pub, AZN Asian Cuisine and The Capital Grille. Silverspot was also among the earliest entries to the center. Mercato is also home to cutting-edge business concepts such as Venture X, which provides shared office space.
Mercato operates as a thriving mixed-use complex, notes Kristin Cartwright, vice president of development services at Premier Sotheby’s International Realty, the real estate division of the Lutgert Companies. In 2015, Prudential Real Estate Investors acquired the retail and office parts of the Mercato for about $240 million.
“One of the main things about living at Mercato is the lifestyle,” Cartwright says. “It’s a lifestyle-driven place.”
On the first floor of the main drag—called the Strada, Italian for “street”—there are a variety of shopping, dining and entertainment offerings, while the second to fifth floors are home to 92 condominium units. Mercato also grants space to office tenants, some of whom—such as Dave and Erin Biggers—live in the community. Other residents, such as Michael Patten, were drawn to Mercato for the uncomplicated lifestyle but continue to keep a workspace elsewhere.
Then there are residents such as Kelly and Ron Ricotta, who live in the community seasonally. The Ricottas hail from Rochester, New York, and originally lived elsewhere in North Naples. When they decided to purchase a different home in Collier County, their search led them as far south as downtown Naples.
Yet they found themselves feeling at ease in Mercato because of the energy and conveniences of the place, and bought a single-family home in the Residences at Mercato, a gated area adjacent to the Strada that’s currently in development.
Forty-seven homes and villas are being built in the Residences, and more than half are already sold. The Ricottas moved into their home, a former model, in November.
“I just like the atmosphere here,” Kelly says of the community. “There’s always people around and something to do.”
Ron agrees: “The other thing that really drove us up here, versus downtown, was how it had a little more of a younger vibe to it.”
And it was not only Mercato that appealed to them; it was the surrounding area and neighborhoods as well. The Ricottas’ average day starts with a quick jaunt across U.S. 41 to visit LA Fitness at the Pavilion Shopping Center for a workout, then back to Mercato for a some java at Second Cup and perhaps a trip to Whole Foods for groceries. Because Publix is nearby at the Marketplace at Pelican Bay, it’s another common shopping stop. When they’re in the mood, the couple also walks to Vanderbilt Beach for some exercise or rides bikes through nearby Pelican Bay.
As art and music lovers, they also love the proximity to Artis—Naples, and Mercato’s North Naples location also brings them closer to the Southwest Florida International Airport in Fort Myers, which is helpful for trips up north to their other homes in New York and Tennessee.
About twice a week in the evening, they have dinner at one of Mercato’s restaurants, or head over to Blue Martini to listen to the live band. On Sunday mornings, they sometimes stop into the Wine Loft to enjoy jazz and champagne, mimosas or bloody marys. When family members are in town, including their four children and five grandchildren, The Counter is a frequent stop for burgers. And although the Ricottas aren’t cigar smokers, they have plenty of friends who are, so Burn is often on their agenda when those friends visit, too.
Finally, don’t underestimate the value of not having to fight traffic, Ron notes. He loves “the ability to just walk out our gate, not have to drive, not have to find a parking spot.”
“It’s very accessible, very walkable, very livable,” Kelly says of Mercato. “Everything, every aspect of your life, is sort of covered here.”
Well, almost every aspect.
The Ricottas are avid golfers, and that’s the one activity Mercato can’t provide. But the Ricottas note that living in a golf course community has a certain type of atmosphere, one where you’re connected to your neighbors through your shared hobby. That didn’t appeal to the couple, at least at this point in their life; rather, they like the privacy that the Residences afford them. They have a small pool outside their home, and beyond that, all the conveniences they have come to love about Mercato.
And no, it’s not noisy. That’s one question heard over and over again. With the urban hubbub of Mercato just a stone’s throw away, are they ever troubled by car horns or other sounds? Actually, the Ricottas say, their home and private pool areas are surprisingly quiet.
“It’s almost like our little oasis back here,” Kelly says.
‘This is the living room’
The Biggers first moved to Mercato as a temporary solution, but fell in love with the community.
Erin and Dave Biggers never expected they would live in North Naples. “Never in a million years,” Dave says, just for extra emphasis.
But when the couple decided to move back to Naples from Oklahoma, they struggled to find the right home for their family, which includes adult children and now a new grandchild. Growing weary of looking, they decided in 2012 to buy a condo at Mercato and use the unit as their temporary home base while they continued their search.
Then something unexpected happened.
Without even realizing when or how, the couple fell in love with their new neighborhood. They even playfully called their condo “the room,” because living at Mercato, with all its conveniences, felt more like staying in an upscale hotel than residing in a traditional residential neighborhood.
And while their new condo was a smaller space than they were used to, they found it didn’t bother them. Mercato’s main drag became where the Biggerses spent most of their free time, enjoying meals and cocktails and the ambience of their new community. The Strada became almost like a breezy, open extension of their home.
“This is the living room,” Dave says of the Strada.
Then, one evening while they were having drinks at The Pub, Dave turned to Erin and floated the idea of discontinuing their house hunt and simply staying at the Mercato. He expected her to reject the idea. But instead, she wholeheartedly agreed.
“It’s all the good things you love about Naples, plus a little hustle and bustle,” Erin says.
Living at Mercato “shifted our whole mindset,” Dave says.
While the proximity to Whole Foods, entertainment, shopping and restaurants is a perk, it’s not the neighborhood’s sole attraction, the couple explains. Dave notes that in a true urban environment—that is to say, a big city—there is always something happening, and fresh faces are always coming and going. A true urban environment means not experiencing the same people and things all the time. It means a diversity of individuals and opportunities.
Without realizing it, that variety was what the Biggerses had been seeking in their home.
“I didn’t want to live in a neighborhood of people that are solely like me,” Dave explains.
There’s also the way Mercato continues to thrive year-round. During their first year of living at Mercato, the couple was struck by how busy it stayed in the summer, the activity level not dropping off noticeably once the hot months rolled around. They couldn’t help but compare it to other parts of town, where the boom—and bust—of the seasonal population is more marked.
“In the summer, Mercato feels more normal. It’s not a ghost town,” Dave says.
Now, the Biggerses joke that they have “doubled down” on Mercato. When it was revealed that the Residences were being planned and that those who lived in the Strada condos would have an early opportunity to purchase a property, the Biggerses pulled out their wallets and wrote the first check to buy. The plans for that home have transformed a bit since that initial purchase, though: Originally, the Biggerses intended to build on one lot, but they have expanded their blueprints to two lots. Their home, currently under construction, is now seven bedrooms.
A few months ago, the couple also opened a Mercato office for Dave’s software company, B2 Equity. The Mercato’s “Live, work, play” motto truly encompasses their lifestyle, the couple agrees.
“We are legitimately that,” Erin says.
“There are times we spend weeks here and don’t leave,” Dave adds.
Dave jokes that sometimes he will text Erin from his office about some subject—getting together for lunch, or their dinner plans—only to realize that she’s just across the street at their condo. And living at Mercato has also reshaped how he structures his workday, since if he wants to take a break and catch a movie or grab a bite to eat and return to his office to work later in the evening, it’s simple to do.
“From a quality of life perspective, this place really struck a chord for us,” Dave says.
‘I want something that’s easy’
Mike Patten dines with friends in Cavo Lounge.
Mike Patten is someone who eats out every night, knows every bartender, has friends in every restaurant.
For a time, he owned a vacation home in Aqualane Shores, and the nearby restaurant row of Third Street South suited him well. But as this residential real estate developer decided it was time to transition his business headquarters to Naples, he also decided it might be time to find a new place to call home. That’s why, two years ago, Patten bought a condo in the Strada. Shortly after, he signed a contract to build a villa in the Residences. He’s since moved into the villa, but he held onto his condo; his son and daughter-in-law recently sold their home in the Moorings, and are staying in it for now.
Does he miss his old neighborhood? Yes, a little, sometimes. But when Patten starts to tick off the things he likes about Mercato, the list is quite long. He starts with the characteristic that’s key: “I want something that’s easy.”
Mercato is definitely that. The location, he says, makes it perfect for popping down to Vanderbilt Beach for his morning run. He sometimes swings over to the Pavilion Shopping Center in the evening for a meal at Tacos & Tequila, or a drink at Paradise Wine. Often, he sticks closer to home for a bite at The Capital Grille.
“Just living here, you get to know so many people,” Patten says. “You walk in and they know who you are and vice versa.”
Mercato hums with activity, too, he adds. Outdoor movies, concerts and other activities make it easy to find something to do year-round. There’s a liveliness to the place that Patten likes, too, one that he has discovered is often made up more of locals than out-of-towners. That’s another edge Mercato offers its residents, he notes: When season rolls around and everyone is fighting for a parking spot and running red lights to make their dinner reservation on time, Patten simply sits back and relaxes.
“In season,” Patten says, “you’re already here.”