By Thom Smith
Affluent. Great weather. Diverse population. Good schools. Beautiful beaches. Great restaurants. Swinging nightlife.
But until recently it was always known as a resort town. Sprung from a hotel, it was a place to visit, not so much a place to live. No downtown to speak of. Aside from a few storefronts on Palmetto Park Road, major shopping required trips to Fort Lauderdale, Delray Beach or West Palm Beach.
Little clusters began to appear: Royal Palm Plaza provided a spark; the Boca Mall fizzled. Thanks to I-95, Florida Atlantic University mushroomed, but remained primarily a commuter school. I-95 also drew retailers west to the Town Center and Boca Center, but they didn’t do much to enhance the town’s identity.
That task fell to some progressive residents who saw value in art, theater and good dining. They gave us the Caldwell Theatre, the Boca Raton Museum of Art, Mizner Park.
OK, so not everything worked: Remember the cartoon museum?
But slowly and surely the town is becoming a city. Many of those early FAU grads now live in Boca. IBM and Siemens may have left, but other corporations have moved in and they’ve brought with them a sense of civic obligation. People move here because they want to, not because they have to.
Boca still doesn’t have a single “main street,” but its heart is taking shape as those old clusters pulsate with energy.
Boca Festival Days
Nowhere is that energy more prevalent than in Boca Festival Days, a monthlong series of events planned and run by nonprofits, to raise awareness and money for the nonprofits with support from for-profits. The Greater Boca Raton Chamber of Commerce organizes and coordinates the festival, which that started Aug. 2 with a Shopping Spree at the Kosher Marketplace to benefit Ruth Rales Jewish Family Service. Teams competing for the title of “Shopping Queen” had two hours to buy as much food possible for the least money. The food was donated to the Rales food pantry. Festival days wrapped Aug. 29 with Bowling for Bread at Strikes bowling center to aid Boca Helping Hands.
Boca’s Ballroom Battle
Spurred by Dancing With the Stars, Boca’s Ballroom Battle has become one of the hottest festival tickets. Held in the glamorous confines of the Boca Raton Resort & Club, the third edition was a sellout as eight prominent Boca residents risked all to win the coveted disco-ball trophy and raise money for the George Snow Scholarship Fund.
Adding to the pressure was a team of four judges led by Tony Dovolani, 2006 World Rhythm Champion and a dancer on DWTS.
Lawyer and bond counsel Denise Ganz cha-cha’d; Jerry Fedele, credited with reviving the just-renamed Boca Regional Hospital, foxtrotted; fashion designer and philanthropist Marleen Forkas tangoed; Office Depot exec Steve Schmidt jived; former recording industry exec Laura Stoltz sizzled in her rumba; business executive Jay Whelchel “hustled,” Miami Dolphin Hall of Famer Dwight Stephenson waltzed; sales and marketing exec Robin Deyo closed the competition with a salsa.
For Whelchel, it was a matter of family honor. His mother, Boca Mayor Susan Whelchel, won the inaugural event in 2008.
“I taught ’em both everything they know,” Jay’s father, John, said before the competition, “but to tell you the truth, with Susan I didn’t worry a bit. Now it’s genetic. With Jay I worry like I did when he was playing in a soccer or football game.”
Brother Matt emphatically dashed any chance that he would appear next year, noting, “I don’t have any political ambition,” and sister Kristy Hartofilis, who just delivered her second child, added, “Not on your life.”
Nonetheless, Whelchel seemed to thrive on the pressure, strutting his best Travolta moves, even putting partner Mariya-Khristina Shurupova through several lifts and flips.
“I thought he had two left feet; it’s nice to know he has a right one,” the stunned mother said after her son and Stoltz were crowned male and female winners.
“I was apprehensive,” Jay Whelchel admitted. “It’s hard enough in front of friends and family, but there’s so many people out there that you work with. Still, we had a lot of fun.”
Rolling out Red Carpet
Festival Days are gone, but Boca’s hardly slowing down.
On the Red Carpet, a food, dessert and appellation sampling from local restaurants, plus entertainment, silent auction and after hours shopping at the Town Center, at 7 p.m., Sunday, Sept. 12, benefits The Haven. $50. www.ontheredcarpetsofla.com.
Food, wine, March of Dimes
The Fifth Annual Signature Chefs & Wine Extravaganza to benefit the March of Dimes features 31 chefs from area restaurants, Sept. 24, 6:30 p.m. at The Boca Raton Resort & Club. Food, wine, auction including special dining experiences from the chefs. General admission: $100 advance, $125 event day. VIP: $125 advance, $150 event day. 561-276-2001 and www.marchofdimes.com/florida.
Think Pink for breast cancer
The Third Annual Think Pink Rocks concert to support breast cancer research charities features hip hoppers AKON, Asher Roth, Pitbull, Melanie Fiona and others, Oct. 9 at Mizner Park Amphitheatre. Tickets: $40, www.thinkpinkrocks.com or 888-711-9399.
TooJay’s starts shipping
So Aunt Sophie in Topeka is on a diet and you want to punish her? Why not have TooJay’s send her a “Killer Cake”? The popular deli that spread from its original location in Palm Beach’s Royal Poinciana Plaza to 26 locations in Florida, including Boca, Boynton and Lake Worth, is going semi-national.
From the decadent Killer Cake ($37.95) to the Ultimate Deli Lunch (serves 6-8) for $74.95, TooJay’s Online Store will ship anywhere east of the Mississippi for just $19.95 and guarantee it’s fresh. Call 888-537-8380 or visit www.toojays.com.
Thom Smith is a freelance writer. He can be reached at email@example.com