Posted by: floridanature | May 7, 2008

Where Tom Mix & Rumi Roam

The other day, editors at the Florida Humanities Council asked me if I could send along a description of a “Third Place”—a site, beyond home, where you feel comfortable, safe, at ease simply being inside your own skin. Naturally, I picked a spot not far from where I live: The historic downtown of Sanford, Fla.

It’s only a few blocks in size, and is both intimate and authentic. Buildings are mostly brick and two story, most from the last century. A smattering of eveything, from antique stores to a diner where you can get Southern Fried Steak and grits. No chic-chic stuff, as yet, like down in Winter Park’s self-consiously affluent downtown.

There’s a little plaza, Magnolia Square, with a fountain and benches and an old clock on a pedestal. The Square is sort of the heart of the downtown. A farmer’s market is held here on Saturday mornings, and I usually go and buy fresh produce and sometimes, a bag of caramel corn, made by the folks who sold me my house. (They now live on their boat in the marina a couple blocks away.) On some afternoons, musicians play here in a jazz ensemble. During the market, a young Africian-American boy in a nifty suit tap dances on a piece of plywood for tips.

Dave’s, my barbershop with its old swirling barber pole is just around the corner. I’d seen photos of it once in an art show and thought the vintage bike out front was placed there as a prop. And then one day, I saw Dave riding it. Inside are three classic barber chairs, and some seats with the plastic covers unfurling. There are at least three dozen photos of old movie cowboys on the walls, from Tom Mix to Roy Rogers and John Wayne.

My favorite independent bookstore in all the world, Maya Books & Music, is between the Square and Dave’s. Yvette owns Maya—she’s very cool and extremely literate, and she named her store for her cat. Her other pet, Layla, is a large black lab. There’s a couple comfy sofas hidden behind the stacks, and outside is a rack of renovated music CD’s. It is a great antidote to the sterile giant cubicles that pass for corporate book stores elsewhere.

Just last week, I bought a Patsy Cline disk at Maya, and I play it in my vehicle when I drive down the worn brick streets, out to the nearby edge of the St. Johns River. I used to go there with Shep and watch for manatees. Yvette is one of the few people who could appreciate both Patsy Cline and the mystical and long dead Persian poet Rumi.

Sanford used to boom, especially during the steamboat era, but the caffinated bustle sprawling out from Orlando in the wake of Disney passed the little downtown right on by. And that’s just fine with me. As a result, there’s no admission, no ques, no marketing whack upside the head to make you think you’re having a great time. You just simply do.



  1. Thanks. We have been to Sanford a few times but have thought of it as a place to get through. Sometime near we’ll take a look at the old Sanford that you write about so vividly. Hope it’s there to stay for a while.

  2. We live in Mount Dora and although we love doing nothing but staying home and enjoying the local parks and lakes after a long week of work in Orlando, we do make trips across Hwy 46 to downtown Sanford (ignoring the Seminole Town Center, a.k.a, The Sanford Mall). One of the jewels we love visiting is the Helen Stairs Theatre.

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