Something Old, Something New
Sarasota has changed in the last 20 years, right?
Yes—and not so much.
The Gulf Coast Community Foundation’s Scott Anderson recently made that point at Sarasota Ballet’s “Tu-Tu Terrific” party, where the ballet announced the line-up for next year’s 20th anniversary season. Much to my surprise, Anderson had unearthed a column of mine from our December 1990 issue, called “Hot Ticket,” which reported that Sarasota Ballet had raised enough money to launch its first season with a resident company, headed by—remember him?—Eddy Toussaint, who had been persuaded to move his dance troupe here from Montreal.
I’ve always joked that someday I’ll make a luckless audience sit through one of my columns—strangely enough, no one has ever taken me up on that offer—and Anderson made my wicked dream come true, at least for a minute or so, reading the lead from that 1990 column to the party-goers.
This fall, even people who never worried about money seemed nervous. At cocktail parties and in offices, Sarasotans fretted about the budget crisis, shrinking stock portfolios and whether banks were sliding down the abyss. Property taxes jumped up and home sales slowed down. And arts leaders uneasily wondered whether patrons and donors would start cutting back.
“Sound familiar?” Anderson asked, and the whole room ruefully laughed.
Many of us had forgotten that 20 years ago Sarasota was suffering through a financial crisis surprisingly similar to the one we face today—one, by the way, that the fledgling ballet company weathered just fine, going on to build a stellar reputation that today extends far beyond our city. Whether it means that those of us who were around then have entered the age of short-term memory loss or just that déjà vu all over again is an integral part of the human condition, I’m not sure; but in working on this annual “Best of Sarasota” issue, I realized that our city today shares some other—and happier—similarities to the place we were two decades ago.
Actually, it was 19 years ago this month that we did our first “Best of Sarasota” issue, publishing the results of a readers’ poll that included 39 different categories. That was back in the dim, desultory days before the Internet, so every ballot was hand-delivered and hand-counted, too. I can’t remember how many ballots we received, but I suspect it was just a few hundred or so; today, thanks in part to the power of the Web, we get many times that many nominations, and our ballot has grown to include 77 different categories. Many of the 240 winners and finalists we’re presenting in this year’s story didn’t even exist back in 1991, but a surprising number of our original winners are still around and thriving. Even more surprising, 22 of those first-time winners from 1991 were winners again this year. Sarasota has always attracted and rewarded excellence, and our poll underlines just how much staying power top-quality operations have in our market. I’d like to recognize those 22 outstanding companies and organizations.
Bath & Racquet Club
Michael’s On East
Myakka River State Park
The Oaks Open-Pit Barbeque
Persnickety Cat and Company
Ringling Museum of Art
St. Armands Circle
Sarasota Family YMCA
Sarasota Jungle Gardens
Suncoast Offshore Grand Prix
Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall
But we’re also a town that’s famous for coming up with fresh ideas; and so many cool new businesses, restaurants and events popped up this year that in addition to our readers’ poll, our “Best of Sarasota” story includes our editors’ picks of “The Best of the New.” We highlight 38 great new places and experiences, and the list is as eclectic as it is impressive. A 10,000-square-foot, eco-friendly cat shelter; an international arts festival; restaurants that range from Belgian to Moroccan; a lecture series featuring famous composers; a mall storefront showing free digital films from Ringling students; take-out Korean sushi—and that’s just for starters.
You’ll find more that’s cool and new in this issue, including a story by our automotive expert, Bob Bowden, about this year’s crop of “dream cars.” After more than 20 years of test-driving cars, Bowden says, “This is about the best year I’ve ever seen for the ultra-luxury category.” Those who can afford those cars “sat tight” for the last few years, he says; but now they’re tired of feeling deprived and are declaring, “I want to celebrate what’s left of my life.” Manufacturers are helping them to do just that with “gorgeous” styling and exciting innovations. You’ll see the models he likes most, beginning on page 52.
Which one would he drive if he could have his pick? “I can’t,” he says. “But if I could, I’d go with the Rolls-Royce Ghost—although it sure would stand out in my neighborhood. It might even get egged.”
And in a sweet story that combines old and new, our own associate editor, Hannah Wallace, does a Story Corps-style interview with her mother, Marian Wallace, who is retiring from a long-running career as Asolo Rep’s stage manager. We especially loved hearing mom and daughter trade memories of how family and theatrical life co-existed in the Wallace household (Hannah’s father, Brad Wallace, was one of the Asolo’s star actors until his recent retirement).
Finally, you may notice that our “Mr. Chatterbox” column is missing in this issue. The reason: Mr. C’s alter ego, our senior editor Bob Plunket, used the ultimate excuse to wiggle out of his deadline. After a scary night of chest pain that turned out to be a mild heart attack, he checked himself into Sarasota Memorial Hospital for triple bypass surgery. As I write this, he is being moved from intensive care to a room. Bob’s heart is “exceptionally strong,” says his surgeon (all of us who love him already knew that), and he predicts Bob will be better than ever by the time you read this. We predict you’ll soon be reading a story about the whole experience; and if anyone can make open-heart surgery both compelling and comic, that would be our Mr. C.