The new project in Susie Wheldon’s life is full of black and white but not as many checkers as some of her others.
Wheldon is opening Verve, a boutique in the hip, growing Edge District in downtown St. Petersburg, Florida. There’s a casual cool about her new space, much like Wheldon herself. Male and female shoppers can pick up fashionable, casual pieces. Her “elevated streetwear” looks include premium denim, high-end T-shirts as well as skirts, dresses and accessories in mainly black, white and grays. None of racing’s checkered flags, though. Not so far.
“I love shopping when I travel,” says Wheldon. “Some of my favorite pieces come from boutiques.”
The 2,400-square-foot shop’s décor is simple and chic. There’s a brown leather sofa, reclaimed wood trim and white walls. What stands out is a mural of a lion with a heart-shaped locket around its neck that is immediately familiar to anyone who knows Wheldon’s racing story. Her late husband, Dan, a two-time Indianapolis 500 winner and 2005 Verizon IndyCar Series champion who was killed in a race-day crash in Las Vegas in 2011, was known by the nickname “Lionheart.” The British driver was also famous for his wit and sense of style.
“I feel like I’m really starting to live my life again,” Susie Wheldon says. “It’s my next chapter. I am creating a life outside of racing.”
While turning a symbolic page, Susie keeps her late husband’s memory close, not only with the mural but also in the merchandise she carries and her new store’s name. Verve comes from the English rock band The Verve and reminds her of their song, “Bitter Sweet Symphony” – one of the couple’s favorites.
“Dan, he had such impeccable taste. He elevated my style,” she says. “I feel like he is here, helping me with this project.”
The date of Verve’s grand opening -- on Thursday, three days before the Verizon IndyCar Series kicks off its 2017 season at the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg – was chosen intentionally, so the Wheldons’ racing friends could participate. And they will be there.
The party, open to the public, begins at 6 p.m. ET Thursday in the store located at 915 Central Ave. in St. Petersburg.
Some of INDYCAR’s most popular drivers – Indianapolis 500 winner and four-time series champion Scott Dixon and his wife, Emma; Marco Andretti, James Hinchcliffe and Josef Newgarden – will model Verve’s menswear and Dan’s 2011 Indianapolis 500-winning car will be on display along with the iconic Borg-Warner Trophy, both shipped this week from the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Museum.
Wheldon doesn’t have a background in fashion; her background is in public relations and marketing. But she’s a shopper and enjoys finding the merchandise Verve carries.
The new business is also helping her set a good example for her sons, Sebastian, 8, and Oliver, almost 6. She wants to model a strong work ethic and show the boys her hopes for the future, even while their family remembers and misses Dan.
With luck, their lives won’t be too far removed from racing’s checkered flags. Following in their father’s footsteps and those of their famous family friends, both Sebastian and Oliver are karters. For her part, Susie is the best-dressed mom at the track.