The St. Petersburg restaurant scene has suffered through five of the most tumultuous years on record, thanks to the economic collapse and the oil spill. It's been bad, and even the most optimistic owners are squinting to see the light at the end of the tunnel.
But cruise through the restaurants and bars of Gulfport and there's a different vibe. Instead of the panicked energy or forced nonchalance of some other Pinellas neighborhoods, these folks are bearing up. Talking it out. Weathering the economic storm like they would a hurricane, chatting up neighbors with a drink in hand, walking outside to enjoy the sun before the eye passes by.
"You look around and it's a phenomenal throwback to what we grew up with," explains Gulfport Chamber of Commerce President Lori Russo. I didn't contact her for an interview; we just bump into each other at Village Pub, where she's nursing a glass of wine to take a break from her Sea Breeze Manor B&B down the street. She's a booster of Gulfport, but she's also practical.
"You look around Gulfport and everything is open and running, there's no 'for lease' signs," she says. "People vacate, sure, but then people move in."