IT takes a big state to absorb the entire North every winter, but once again, Florida is pulling it off. From Miami to Pensacola, the cold-weather escapees have been filtering in, completing the midwinter migration to the Northerners’ land of dreams — or at least, the land of polo shirts and khaki shorts. And with more than 50,000 square miles of territory, Florida has plenty of room for all of them — sun-hungry retirees, peripatetic second-home owners and seasonal settlers — to spread out.
So why don’t they?
It’s not exactly regimentation, and there are plenty of exceptions to be found, but Florida’s winter arrivals clearly like to settle in clumps. Even in the sunny South, they seem to want to be among their own — occupying turf in the company of their clans, their neighbors, their golf buddies and, in general, people who share the cadences of their accents and the colors of their license plates.
That’s why the Miami area is called the Sixth Borough — and why Palm Beach County voters lamenting the weaknesses of the butterfly ballot in 2000 so often sounded like Long Islanders.
It’s why Memphis families returning from spring break will be walking around with white sand from the Panhandle city of Destin (not Fort Myers, certainly not Miami) between their toes.
It’s the reason two newspapers in French, with a Québécois tilt, are published in the Fort Lauderdale-area city of Hollywood and a big Quebec bank, Caisse populaire Desjardins, has started three branches nearby, complete with French-flashing A.T.M.’s.
New Englanders settle around Sarasota, and Philadelphians camp out nearby in Clearwater. Minnesotans congregate on Sanibel Island; Ohioans on the Gulf Coast east of Panama City. Carolinians find their own in Daytona.
In the beginning, all of this segmentation was a function of the Interstates. From the Midwest, the most direct route to Florida, I-75, goes to the West Coast. From the Northeast, I-95 follows the East Coast straight down to Miami. From Alabama, Tennessee and Georgia, it’s a comfortable drive to the Panhandle.
Now, of course, you can board a flight to just about anywhere in Florida. But Northerners cling to the old patterns anyway.
“They’re like birds,” said John Tuccillo, an economist in Arlington, Va., who serves as a real estate consultant to businesses and government agencies. “They keep to their flyways.” Demographers have a name for it: chain migration. “People who live near each other share information about where to retire, where to vacation,” said Lance deHaven-Smith, a professor of public administration at Florida State University in Tallahassee. “They tell their friends and neighbors, and then they end up in the same place.”
Sometimes those flyways can be very narrow. Often a Florida resort has a chillier twin farther north. Seventy-five percent of second-home owners on Ponte Vedra Beach near Jacksonville are from Atlanta, according to Linda Sherrer, a broker with Prudential Network Realty. Palm Beach County has its counterpart in New York’s Nassau and Suffolk Counties. Even Staten Island has a colony, in the Villages, a sprawling retirement and golf community southeast of Ocala.
FOR years, the high-toned West Coast resort town of Naples has been a domain of suburban Detroit. So many retired General Motors executives have homes there (including the former chief executives Roger Smith and Jack Smith) that a group got together and formed the 120-member Gulf Shores GM Retired Executives Club.
The Detroit connection may have solidified on the day in 2001 when Nina Machus, a snowbird from the suburb of Bloomfield Hills, and a friend dreamed up a women’s club called the Juliets as a way for old friends to do something during their three or four months in Naples other than play endless rounds of golf. (They also wanted to outdo their husbands, who had started a men-only lunch club called the Romeos — Retired Old Men Eating Out.)
The Juliets started by limiting membership to current or past residents of Bloomfield Hills or nearby Birmingham. They got a book discussion group going, set up bridge games and organized outings. Soon the phones started ringing and didn’t stop.
“We had to cut it off when we hit 100,” said Ms. Machus, a vocal music teacher who likes to tune the TV to Detroit weather when she’s on the treadmill. “It’s hard to find a place that has room for more than a hundred women at lunch.”
On a balmy Monday morning in November, 13 Juliets managed to squeeze into the narrow new fiction aisle of a local Barnes & Noble to discuss “The White Russian,” by Tom Bradby. Half hadn’t read the book. But the group’s leader, Barbara Denomme, a former kindergarten teacher who is married to Thomas G. Denomme, a former vice chairman of Chrysler, started the discussion anyway.
Later, Ms. Machus, Ms. Denomme and a Birmingham Juliet, Janette Engelhardt, went to lunch and did a little shopping — first at a costume jewelry store that sells $10 watches, then in a boutique in Old Naples where Ms. Engelhardt admired a black net top for $885 and a metallic skirt for $820. “It’s great fun,” Ms. Engelhardt said of the Juliets club. “And it’s become a tremendous support system.”
Of course, there are exceptions to the migratory rules, especially involving people from New York State. A study this year by Stan Smith, director of the Bureau of Economic and Business Research at the University of Florida in Gainesville, found that of all the people who spend part of each year in Florida, the greatest number were from New York, with Michigan next, followed by Ohio, Pennsylvania, Canada, Illinois, Georgia, Massachusetts, New Jersey and California. Upstate New Yorkers have long gravitated to places like the central eastern coast and the area around Tampa and St. Petersburg. And now that South Florida has filled up, metropolitan New Yorkers are popping up in nearly every place where Florida sand meets the sea.
It would take radical change, however, to break the old ties to Miami, and the connection has renewed itself with the emergence of South Beach as a new winter haunt that mirrors the Manhattan and Hollywood scenes. The film and television producer Jerry Bruckheimer just bought a condo in one of the nicest buildings in South Beach, according to Diane Lieberman, broker-owner of South Beach Investment Realty. The rappers Diddy and Lil Wayne, the billionaire businessman Mark Cuban and the Yankees star Alex Rodriguez all have homes nearby.
After the 1970s, New Yorkers began to move north from Miami to Fort Lauderdale and then to Palm Beach County, often traceable for demographers partly by their Jewish ethnicity. Ira Sheskin, director of University of Miami’s Jewish Demography Project, said that since the 1980s and 1990s, Boca Raton, Delray Beach and Boynton Beach had all acquired large Jewish populations of New Yorkers, though many Orthodox Jews buck the trend by staying in Miami.
Boynton Beach, a booming city south of Palm Beach, attracts New York’s suburbanites. “This is Long Island plopped down with palm trees,” said Beverly Sandberg, who is from Huntington, N.Y., and spent 10 winters in Boynton Beach before retiring there recently with her husband, Alan.
In nearby Delray Beach, Evelyn Stefansky, who was born in Brooklyn, opened a restaurant, Lox Around the Clock, a year ago with friends from Queens and farther east on Long Island. The bagel dough she has shipped in from Brooklyn pleases her clientele, and she has begun passing out chopped liver on bread to mollify impatient New Yorkers waiting in line.
Perhaps nothing solidified New York’s identification with Palm Beach County more than the episode of “Seinfeld” in which Jerry’s parents objected to George’s parents’ buying a condo in Del Boca Vista, a fictitious Florida development where they lived. In 2000, the real-life Jerry Seinfeld was spotted taking his real-life mother, Betty, out to dinner near her home in Delray Beach, where she settled after raising her family in Massapequa on Long Island.
Some Florida clusters come from even farther away. South of Orlando in Kissimmee and Davenport, pubs have popped up along the highways to serve Britons in the area’s endless subdivisions. Germans buy in the Fort Myers area, where restaurant menus are printed in German and one town, Cape Coral, has its own Oktoberfest.
THE city of Orlando, as opposed to its sprawling suburbs, has a different kind of magnetism. It’s become a microcosm of cosmopolitanism with Europeans and Latin Americans joining New Yorkers in the condo population.
Perhaps the most surprising development, however, has been the arrival of Southern Californians in Jacksonville. The Florida Times-Union in Jacksonville published a story about the phenomenon last year, and Jim Doyle, a Jacksonville developer, first noticed it a bit earlier. A new house in the Jacksonville area costs about a third of the price of a comparable house in San Diego, he said. “Our California buyers have been doing back flips at how much more affordable prices are here.”
Bob Hamburg, 52, and his wife Carol, 58, left San Diego in 2004 and bought a four-bedroom, three-bathroom house with a pool in Palm Coast, Fla., an hour south of downtown Jacksonville, for $600,000. “This house would cost $2 million in San Diego,” Mr. Hamburg said. Word has gotten out — two other houses on their block have been bought by Californians.
“I can open the windows and hear the ocean,” Mr. Hamburg said. Air-conditioning takes the edge off the Florida summers, and there are $1 million condos going up nearby, a promising sign. “Someone told me this is going to be the next Naples,” he said.
Mr. Hamburg just may have stumbled onto a whole new flyway.
ref: Florida Times-Union, Caisse populaire Desjardins, National Association of Realtors, Florida State University in Tallahassee, Gulf Shores GM Retired Executives Club, Juliets club, Bureau of Economic and Business Research at the University of Florida in Gainesville, and just standing on the curb watching!