NOKOMIS - After 71 years, the Nokomis Groves is shuttering its citrus packing business.
Customers outside Nokomis Groves on Tuesday were saddened to hear the news.
"That's too bad," Venice resident Sue Flora said as she ate the ice cream the store is known for with her husband, Curt. They were outside the store Tuesday.
Sarasota resident Bonita Ritchison said anytime she is in the area, she stops at the store. She said she lived in Nokomis for many years and always liked what Nokomis Groves offered.
"I always went there for their fresh oranges and their tomatoes - and at Christmas, I always bought their toffee as gifts. They had the best toffee," Ritchison said. "That's going to be terrible."
That is the bad news.
The good news is it will continue to offer its famous orange ice cream and other special ice cream flavors from its retail store on Albee Farm Road. Ice cream is offered daily from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. except on major holidays and for severe weather.
"Our luscious orange vanilla swirl is our most popular, but many fans also love our lime, chocolate and pineapple flavors," the owners wrote in the letter issued about the end of the company's citrus operations.
The not-so-bad news is that the owners have made arrangements with a "highly reliable company to fulfill your gift fruit shipping needs."
Those orders will be handled by phone to an 800 number which is already up and running - 800-426-5274.
For 71 years, the retail store opened on Nov. 1 with tables and shelves stocked with every thing that could possibly be made from citrus as well as items decorated with citrus motifs.
One thing that never changed through all the years and various owners was the price of a sample of the groves' orange juice. For the entire 71 years the price remained 5 cents.
Perry and Annie Lee Hayes opened the groves and store in 1948. They were followed by the second generation owners Gene and Nadine Handerson.
Today, the company is operated by members of the third generation of the family: Brenda and David Kemerer, Sandra Henderson, Laura Henderson and Joanna Pal.
The orange trees adjacent to the store and across the street supplied citrus fruit for many years. Maintaining the groves was a big job but so was the work involved with planning the annual gift catalog and all the items that would be included within its pages.
The one item that eventually made part of the business a year-round operation was the ice cream.
Residents could enjoy it year round and snowbirds would often make it their first stop on arrival in the fall and its last stop prior to departure in the spring.
Co-owner Laura Henderson, when reached by phone for a comment, said the family did not want to say anything more at this time.
This is a "bittersweet time" the owners said in the letter announcing the change. Given the legion of resident and snowbird fans, the announcement will prove bittersweet to their longtime customers.
"We have been told that the top two spots to go to in the Nokomis/Venice area are to watch a sunset, and visit Nokomis Groves," the owners wrote in a social media post. "Many of our winter customers tell us Nokomis Groves is their first stop when they arrive back in Florida and the last place on their way home."
Gondolier Editor Scott Lawson contributed to this story.