foxy rebirth

The Fox Mercantile Has Opened in the Former Sea Hagg Space in Cortez

Take a look at the cozy new cafe, shop and event space run by Ashley Petrone, who also owns the nearby Joie Inn.

By Kim Doleatto October 11, 2023

The Fox Mercantile

If you’re wondering what became of Cortez's beloved, eccentric Sea Hagg space when the store closed after 25 years in business, rest assured that it was not razed and replaced with a high-rise luxury condo building. Instead, the antique shop has been transformed into The Fox Mercantile, a cafe, shop and event space.

The Fox Mercantile is run by owner Ashley Petrone, who also opened Joie Inn, a boutique hotel, nearby. Petrone bought the almost quarter-square-acre property last October for $1.45 million, and after seven months of renovations, opened The Fox Mercantile in June. It offers drinks, light bites and homewares, local jewelry and other accessories, and can also be used as an intimate events space.

“While we renovated, a lot of snowbirds left for the summer. Now we’re ready for when they come back,” she says. 

Fox Mercantile's "feast table" seats 30 people for private events that can be fully catered.

Fox Mercantile's "feast table" seats 30 people for private events that can be fully catered.

It's a new chapter for the Cortez Road space.

Although she tried to initially incorporate them into the new layout, Petrone says some Sea Hagg signature mainstays, like the vintage Deanna Belle boat, were beyond repair. (She did, however, keep Sea Hagg's driftwood at the entrance to the store.) Still, Petrone’s style continues to honor that Old Florida charm alongside what’s now a curated yet cozy getaway with a lush, tropical garden outside. She loves restoring old things, as evidenced by the old-school yellow-and-white trailer, called La Sal, that's parked outside and can be used for events. It's also a perfect backdrop for Instagram pics. 

La Sal

Driftwood still frames the front entrance.

Other changes include the addition of a small kitchen that delivers light, brunchy bites, like Liège waffles made fresh to order. The menu is set to expand on Nov. 1 and will include items like fresh yogurt cups, avocado toast and ricotta toast with pistachio and honey, to name a few.

Made to order Liège waffle.

For beverages, tea is steeped to order—even the iced stuff—and don't be surprised to see it garnished with fresh flowers. And heads up, coffee fiends: there’s a real-deal Italian Marzocco espresso machine, stocked with beans roasted by Longwood-based Leatherback Roasters. A filtration system ensures the water is top-notch. And if you need a sweet treat, the store's signature Foxi Shake is made with local chocolate chip ice cream from Yoder’s Southern Creamery.

The sprawling 8,000-square-foot outdoor area is dense with native tropical plants and trees for a tropical oasis vibe, scented by fragrant jasmine vines. 

The outdoor garden entryway.

The outside area is a tropical oasis.

"Ashley wanted a bright, beachy, modern Bohemian space,” says Kevin Lenhart of Yardzen. “With lots of exterior square footage, we worked with [Petrone] to design plenty of nooks and seating areas that would encourage guests to gather and relax outside.”

Guests are encouraged to enjoy the sprawling garden space outdoors.

A shaded nook outside The Fox Mercantile.

Inside, the shop is outfitted with many of Petrone’s favorite things. “It’s a combination of the right price, things I love, unique finds and having it all pair well," she says.

Inside The Fox Mercantile.

 “I tried to take on a minimal feel, but cozy and curated, too, with a touch of whimsy. That's why we hung disco balls, so there’s glitter everywhere,” Petrone explains.

Textiles and vintage finds.

As with the Joie Inn, Fox Mercantile is a family affair and Petrone, who's also a mother of four, is there most days. 

Ashley Petrone inside the shop.

So far, The Fox Mercantile is attracting “families, friendly coffee dates, and staycationers doing a day on Anna Maria Island,” Petrone says. 

And similar to the Sea Hagg, Petrone wants her store to be about forging relationships. “It’s an experience," she says. "I want people to feel special when they come here."

The Fox Mercantile is located at 12304 Cortez Road, Cortez, in Manatee County. To learn more, click here.

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