Preserving a Sense of Community at Andrew's Homestead
On a grey summer morning portending heavy rain, Andrew Piezzo sat on the front porch of his store, Andrew’s Homestead. Motorists cruised south on two-lane backroads with generous views of the St. Johns River. One honked a friendly hello as they passed the charming blue and white building. Piezzo waved and leaned back in his rocking chair.
The surrounding community of Switzerland, Florida is a peaceful enclave, hemmed in by housing developments and the expanse of the river. Andrew said people here supported the opening of his store because it is a convenient option for high-quality produce.
But it is certainly much more than that.
Leonard Hartley opened Hartley’s General Store in the early1950s, in the same building where Andrew’s Homestead now operates.For over 40 years, Mr. Hartley supplied his community with groceries, gasoline and, ever the jokester, a steady stream of pranks.Mr. Hartley amused himself by gluing a coin to the floor just to watch people bend over and try to pick it up. His porch was always draped with people, lounging and gossiping. Everyone knew Mr.Hartley, and Mr. Hartley knew everyone.
Even as the greater Switzerland area developed rapidly and brought in large supermarkets, Mr. Hartley’s customers remained loyal until his store closed its doors in the 1990s. The building, and iconic porch, remained vacant for the next two decades.
Now, the old camaraderie is being revived. After shopping,customers spill out onto the porch where they spend time with neighbors who they might not normally see. Nostalgic memories abound and children run around the old building, which has been restored to its former glory since Andrew’s opened in 2016. The store’s advertisement is by word of mouth, and it comes down to two things — good food and good people.
“Something magical seems to happen when you combine the two,” Piezzo said, when describing his personal and professional journey.
People understand that operating a store like Andrew’s requires unwavering dedication. Small, locally owned shops fight tirelessly for resources in true David-and-Goliath fashion, hurling pebbles at multi-million dollar conglomerates. There is also a unique sense of ownership accessible to customers when they participate in local businesses. Piezzo’s customers helped shape the store by suggesting and requesting certain items be available. When Andrew’s Homestead opened,only produce lined the shelves. Dairy, condiments, soaps and kombucha are just a few of the dozens of local goods thestore now offers. Customers have generously contributed expertise, decorations and volunteer hours. Piezzo feels that he and his customers have “experienced a learning curve” together since opening day.
“It’s as much mine as it is theirs,” he said. “I'll just keep moving forward and make the store better with every year. That's my way of saying thanks.”
Locally owned businesses are often able to implement customer feedback in ways that are directly returned to the customer and community.This give-and-take relationship creates trust and accountability between merchant and consumer. For Piezzo, this means providing the best possible goods and staying in touch with his clientele. For customers, it means patronizing the store whenever possible and continuing to advocate for local farms and artisans in the area.
The neighborhood’s lack of grocery options makes Andrew’s Homestead even more of a critical resource, and the regular need for the same people to replenish their refrigerators and pantries leads to increased interaction between customers and Piezzo. He sees them more frequently and they get to know one another in a short period of time. Of his patrons, Piezzo said, “I know their parents. I know their grandparents.” What was once a mere grocery errand is now an outing to a place where people have a sense of belonging.
Piezzo’s customers are strong supporters of shopping locally and love good food, passions that connect them across demographics. They may not agree on everything, but they still trade recipes.
As Piezzo said, “Good people, good food, good life.”
The strong sense of ownership granted to the community by Andrew’s Homestead, brought together by the need for food, strengthens a common ground on which neighbors can stand and support each other. Community businesses and gathering places remind us to focus on what we all share — a desire to preserve the things we love. The store’s advertisement is by word of mouth, and it comes down to two things — good food and good people.
Interested in taking an afternoon drive to visit Andrew's Homestead? You'll find it at 2040 State Rd 13 in Switzerland.