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Fun in the sun: Florida memorabilia fest is Saturday in Gulfport

Bill DeYoung

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Tiki Gardens in the town of Indian Shores, 1964-88. The complete story of Pinellas Country's "exotic island paradise" appears in the book "Vintage St Pete: The Golden Age of Tourism - and More." Postcard image.

Ken Breslauer, who’s authored numerous books on Florida’s long-vanished roadside attractions and mid-century tourism, believes he understands why native Floridians – like him – treasure memories of a Sunshine State that no longer exists.

“It’s funny how as you grow up you develop this loyalty to certain things,” he says, “whether it’s a restaurant that’s been there forever and closed suddenly, an attraction, or a store.

“You take it for granted when it’s there, but then when it’s gone it feels like a piece of you has been stolen.”

That, in a nutshell, was the reason Breslauer began putting together Florida memorabilia events in 1994. The 2022 Floridania Fest will take place Saturday inside the Gulfport Casino –  featuring 18 vendors selling memorabilia, books, souvenirs and other tourism ephemera from pre-21st century Florida.

“I think that when people get older, they see that things have changed so much that they miss what they grew up with,” Breslauer adds. “I guess it’s just human nature.”

Although most of Saturday’s sellers are Florida residents, several are coming in from as far as the Midwest – Florida collectibles have become something of a big business.

The attendees, explain Breslauer, will visit the Casino for different reasons. “There’s always a percentage of people who are just curious as to what it’s all about,” he says.

“But the core group of people who come to this … there are niches. Some people collect tourist attraction memorabilia, there’s postcard collectors, there are people who are into Florida art and decorative items. There are tiki culture fanatics. And everybody always has a lot of fun.”

Full disclosure: This reporter will be there, too, with copies of the St. Petersburg Press books Vintage St. Pete – both volumes in hardcover – plus my other Florida books Skyway: The True Story of Tampa Bay’s Signature Bridge and the Man Who Brought it Down and Phil Gernhard Record Man.

Breslauer, who spent years as public relations director for the Sebring Raceway, got hooked on nostalgia while pursuing his graduate degree.

“I did my thesis on Preservation Strategies for Roadside Tourist Attractions, which is a subject that nobody gave a sh– about until 2003, when Cypress Gardens closed rather suddenly, and everybody started freaking out – ‘What’s going to happen to all these attractions, to Weeki Wachee and Silver Springs?’ This big preservation movement started, and a lot of them have been saved, either by the state or by municipal governments.

“Then I started doing books on the subject, and here we are.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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