When Hal Freedman and Willi Rudowsky moved from San Francisco to St. Petersburg 14 years ago, their friends took bets on how long they’d stay. Freedman and Rudowsky –– urbanites with eclectic and cosmopolitan tastes –– didn’t exactly fit the typical Florida retiree profile.
Freedman, 72, was a Manhattan native who worked in real estate, technology and garment manufacturing, and Rudowsky, 66, was a San Francisco native who managed foreign buying agents for Williams-Sonoma.
They moved into Bayfront Tower in downtown St. Pete just as Freedman says he felt like, “the city was about to pop.”
Rudowsky went back to school to get two masters degrees and in 2012 took a job as manager of program coordinators at the Poynter Institute. Freedman began working in local real estate and founded Preserve Our Wallets and Waterfront (POWW), the group opposed to building a new Rays stadium downtown.
Now deeply embedded in the community, Freedman and Rudowsky, who’ve been together for 44 years, are season ticket holders at American Stage and freeFall Theatre Company, among others. They’re regulars at arty parties everywhere from the Dalì Museum to the Warehouse Arts District. They helped lead the charge to build The Lens and are passionate about Greenlight Pinellas, a 30-year plan to overhaul Pinellas County’s public transportation system.
“Our friends still wonder why we’re here,” Freedman says. “They think St. Pete is Florida. That’s like saying Austin is Texas.”
Favorite alternative to Starbucks: Brew D Licious. Hal: “Brigitte [Whitaker], who owns the place, is great. It’s comfortable and inviting and the No Name Java is great.”
Favorite clothing proprietor: Cozette Roche of Cozette’s Boutique. Willi: “I don’t run into someone wearing the same clothes every time I walk down the street. Strangely enough Cozette, who is very tall, always picks stuff that works for me.”
Favorite commercial corridor: 600 Block of Central Avenue. Willi: “It’s a very San Francisco block.” Hal: “The business owners all appear to be hard-working and self-made. I don’t think there are a lot of trust fund babies setting up shop on the 600 Block.”
Favorite place to hang with like-minded people: The Warehouse Arts District. Willi: “Duncan McClellan’s building is wonderful. His art is wonderful and the crowd is wonderful. It’s a trifecta!”
Favorite unsung theater company: St. Petersburg City Theatre. Willi: “It’s the oldest community theater in Florida and nobody’s heard of it. It’s the invisible theater. The performances are terrific. More people need to know about it. Hal: “It’s way the hell out in the middle of nowhere.”
Favorite gutsy theater company: freeFall Theatre. Hal: “In April we saw The Mikado. It was an all-male cast, including the female roles. It was part comedy and part Kabuki show.” Willi: “We like the edgy shows, not just the big blockbuster productions.” Hal: “We like incredible theater. Period.”
Favorite downtown gallery: BlueLucy. Hal: “They did this 100 Films exhibit where they told artists to make something representative of a film. It was a huge hit. I heard Evan Longoria bought something like nine pieces.”
Favorite yoga instructors: Nice Alberts and Stacy Renz. Hal: “Nice understands me and my odd quirks. I would love to do her yoga paddleboard class.” Willi: “I told him over my dead body. I’m the one who has to nurse him when he gets hurt. Stacy is great. I like the fact that she originally trained as an occupational therapist. She gets the mechanics of the body. She’s more concerned with the pose than getting through whole movements.”
Favorite happy hour: Cassis American Brasserie. Hal: “It’s the most beautiful setting and you get to see the parade of passersby.” Willi: “It feels like being in Europe.”
Favorite comfort food: Engine No9 and Backfin Blue Café. Hal: “Engine No9’s hamburgers are awesome.” Willi: “Backfin Blue does great crab cakes and shrimp salad.”
Favorite crunchy cafe: Mangia Gourmet in Gulfport. Willi: [Owner] Jill Johnson makes this amazing vegan chocolate cake. You don’t have to be vegan to enjoy it.” Hal: “Oh, and the hummus! It’s perfect.”
Favorite local band: Urban Gypsies. Hal: “I booked them for Willi’s 60th birthday party. I like their spirit.” Willi: “They’re kind of like watching a calm version of The Grateful Dead.”
Favorite culinary escape: DeLucia Italian Bakery. Willi: “If Hal could be anywhere in the world it would be Italy, and this place feels like Italy.” Hal: “The place is inexpensive given how gorgeous it is.”
Favorite fundraising fête: Sueños de Dali at the Dalì Museum. Hal: “I wont miss it. It’s not a lot of speechifying and 500 awards. It’s just fun.” Willi: “It’s the costumes. Hal loves costume parties.”
Favorite places to browse for art: Temple Beth-El and Mainsail Art Festivals. Willi: “The artists are incredible. We don’t always buy the work because it might not be the right fit for our place, but we love looking.”
Favorite outdoor activity: Pounding the pavement. Willi: “I love going out to the Pier at like 8 in the morning when the fishermen are out.”
Favorite local mover and shaker: Mayor Rick Kriseman. Hal: “He’s extremely accessible. Everyone on the City Council is generally approachable. I love that about St. Pete. It has a nice balance of big-city amenities and small-town manners.”
Favorite excuse to throw a party: The Firestone Grand Prix of St. Pete. Hal: “We live in the middle of Grand Prix craziness. Instead of running away every year we have an open house. Willi: “This year’s party got a little out of hand. Hal tends to over-invite.”
Favorite metaphysical experience: Tarot readings at Enchanted Notions. Willi: “It was more prophetic than I imagined. The tarot reader [Christy Clark Faris] was insightful. She made suggestions and told me to look out for certain things that did eventually happen.”