From The Editor

By staff June 1, 2008

Not everybody is cutting back these days. Consider the nation’s top 25 hedge fund managers, who brought home $16 billion in bonuses this year and, according to the Wall Street Journal’s “Wealth Report” blog, gleefully intend to spend even more this year than last. That won’t be easy—in 2007, top fund managers shelled out about $4 million each for art, $582,000 for jewelry, $318,000 for watches and $135,200 for luxury spa services.

But as Carol Tisch reports in this issue, many Sarasotans don’t share those fund managers’ all-too-rational exuberance. And it’s not only those who have lost their jobs or investment properties who are reining in their spending. Even the ultra-wealthy are reconsidering trips to Europe or making do with last year’s Bentley. Still, we Sarasotans love our luxuries, and Tisch found that locals have developed all sorts of strategies to keep the indulgences that matter most to them without spending a fortune.

But what’s a luxury to me may be a necessity to you—and utterly unimportant to someone else. So at a time when many people are seriously assessing their self-indulgences, we asked some local notables which luxury they value most.

Eileen Curd and her husband, Howard, were driving through Ireland when I reached her; and driving, she immediately declared, was the last luxury she’d give up. “I’d rather give up restaurants or new clothes,” she says. “We drive everywhere—we once drove from Venice to Trieste to Slovenia to Prague to Vienna—and we meet phenomenal people and see phenomenal things.” They also love the conversations and closeness of being in the car together. “Spending time alone with my husband,” she says, “that’s the greatest luxury of all.”

Joe Saconi, president of the upscale Hyde Park Prime Steakhouses, which just opened a lavish new steakhouse in downtown Sarasota, may spend his days immersed in the restaurant business, but nonetheless, he says, “I still love a quiet dinner out with my wife.” Treating themselves to a top-notch restaurant “gives us a break from our kids [who are nine and three],” he explains, and the good food and conversation create a stress-free cocoon that erases everyday pressures. Saconi has already enjoyed several Sarasota restaurants on visits here from Cleveland headquarters, and he looks forward to discovering more. “We could tell from the questions at our opening party that your diners are sophisticated and intelligent,” he says, and the restaurant scene here reflects that.

When Elita Kane came to Florida from Latvia 13 years ago, she had lots of determination, no English—and a 10-year-old son, Janis, she’d had to leave behind. Living apart from each other for the year it took to work out his immigration was “awful,” she says, and it taught her that the biggest luxury is “having your whole family together.” Now married to one of Sarasota’s most successful men, Daniel Kane, Elita travels between their homes in Sarasota, Martha’s Vineyard and New Jersey and admits her life in America is “everyone’s dream.” But “money can’t buy” her greatest joy, which is having her son and now her mother and stepfather at home with Daniel and her. “If we could not all have been together, I would have gone back,” she says. “This is as good as it gets.”

“I have a part-time job that pays $25,000 a year,” Sarasota City Commissioner Ken Shelin says wryly. “I don’t have a lot of luxuries. But I’d miss having lunch out, whether for social reasons or work.” Lunch provides “a setting where no one’s across the desk in a power position, and everyone’s equal,” he explains. Nervous constituents relax, and even adversaries tend to bond. “It’s about forming a relationship first of all, but also about accomplishing something and making decisions,” Shelin says. His favorite lunch spot? In the intimate lounge at the Bijou, where you’ll spot him enjoying productive conversation and a sandwich of tender lamb medallions.

As general manager of The Ritz-Carlton, Sarasota, polished, polite James McManemon defines and delivers luxury—and that may be why his most cherished luxury is the exact opposite of his refined and cerebral job. McManemon is a gym rat, with multiple memberships, a personal trainer and a commitment to grueling workouts five nights a week. That’s a sizeable investment in time (his other most precious luxury, he says) as well as money, but he considers it well worth the cost. He enjoys the physicality and camaraderie, noting that his workout partners, who range from a high-level executive to a blue-collar worker, will rag him if he’s late because he had to attend a fancy dinner “while they were eating protein bars.” And he’s convinced the strength and endurance he’s built at the gym help keep him energetic and “mentally acute” when he’s back, impeccably dressed and brightly smiling, at the Ritz.

For ABC-7 newscaster Heidi Godman, the answer was easy. “I spend every spare penny on getaways with my children,” she says. She and her husband, Jay, have three kids—five, eight and 14—and with her long days and everyone else’s hectic schedule, “You really can’t reconnect at the dinner table,” she says. So they frequently schedule family weekends at Disney or a Florida golf or beach resort. “It’s such a joy to just relax and reconnect,” she says. “It’s a luxury we all love.”

“I would give up our house and our cars before I’d give up our boat,” says attorney and philanthropist Charlie Ann Syprett. She and her attorney husband, Jim, spend about half of the year on their 58-foot trawler, My Blue Heaven, cruising to the Bahamas, the Chesapeake Bay and even New York, where last summer they spent five weeks in Manhattan’s harbor. For Jim, the boat is about “adventure—the higher the waves, the happier he is,” and Charlie Ann says he’s both a “consummate captain” and a carefree kid once he steps aboard, wearing pirate pants and grinning widely. For her, “It’s freedom and peace,” and experiences like “standing on the fly bridge at night and seeing thousands of stars twinkle over the Bahamas.” Rather than “going the luxury yacht route,” they chose a “seaworthy, comfortable and practical boat.” Still, she says, “It’s costly, and not a day goes by that we don’t recognize how fortunate we are.” That’s one reason they started “Cruising for a Cause,” taking cancer patients from the Wellness Community out for excursions.

When the producers of his Studio 10 TV show couldn’t get the guests they wanted, they asked co-host and comedian Tim Wilkins if he could do anything to fill the seven-minute segment. “I cook a little,” Wilkins said, and a star chef was born. Now Wilkins is “so into cooking” that he’s cut back on dining out to splurge on gourmet meals at home. “I buy expensive ingredients, and even if I’m cooking for myself, I still present the food artfully,” he says. And though “I’m drinking better wine,” he’s saving money with coupons and wine clubs. Wilkins is a divorced, full-time father, and his kids, 14 and nine, now write out their dream menus for the week—lemon chicken, Mexican carnitas—and he obliges. This summer, he’s heading to California to pursue film, TV and major comedy club opportunities, but he’s also working on a book: Single Dad Chef.

Realtor and frequent not-for-profit chair Nora Johnson says travel is her most precious indulgence. “I love it and live for it, and even if it had to be by backpack ather than a first-class ticket, I’d still be traveling—it feeds the soul.” She comes by her love of travel honestly—her parents met while sailing around the world for a year. Johnson and her husband and two teen-agers take frequent trips, as many as four or five a year. “The kids only have two continents to go,” she says, “Australia and South America.” When the children were very young she and her husband would avoid trips that might tire them out, instead doing things like renting a villa in Tuscany for a month and just soaking up the flavor of another country. But now the kids are travel pros, who appreciate museums, architecture—“and different kinds of food,” says Nora. Their trips have made them all “better citizens of the world,” with “compassion and perspective on different ways of life,” she says.

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