The ubiquitous Facebook corporation gave a platform to people who deplore the change, and they in turn provoked a 3am rebuttal from across the ethernet sounding chamber; all of which I read with increasing puzzlement at a remove created by the support or dissent of others in the network of "friends."
The odd thing about the position taken above is that it states with passion what has been obvious. Tony Falcone's operation had run out of steam for whatever reason. Everyone had an opinion as to why, everyone except me, as I have no particular bent toward shop keeping. I worked at Fast Buck's one year as I waited to be hired by the city. I liked it enough I asked for a raise before quitting to be a dispatcher but though I was a good worker in the shipping department I was not worth twelve dollars an hour, so I went to the city for fifteen and full benefits. Lucky for me as I just marked my tenth anniversary with the city and qualification for a full pension.
I enjoyed working there, the drama, the personalities all viewed from my half-out-the-door perch, made for fine memories, but at heart I wanted structure and certainty in my job.
The attics were warrens of supplies, more suited to the dusty halls of a castle than a shop overlooking Duval Street. I took this picture one Fantasy Fest when bead throwers staffed the ramparts. Not terribly corporate, and they reminded me of my forays above the offices to find merchandise for my boss.
Fast Buck's was that store you would go to and profess familiarity with, to convince yourself you belonged in Key West. One mainland city commissioner famously had to resign after a Key West visit when she returned to her council chambers and passed around boxes of penis pasta as a gift, a souvenir of a happy vacation. Not the gift that is expected or desired in inoffensive mainstream department stores. But Key West...well, that's different.
Not anymore. The Strand was once a movie theater, built in the 1920s which later fell into disrepair completing its theatrical run as a pornographic outlet in a town that was about ready to let Duval Street collapse after the withdrawl of the Navy in the 1960s.
I worked there in the 80's when it was a nightclub. Very strange as the building in the movie really looks nothing like The Strand. The outside ticket booth and the stairs yeah maybe but the rest I don't recognise. What a beautiful place that the town allowed to be destroyed! The town is so commercial now I don't even desire to go back.
The picture above from http://www.conchs.com a nostalgia site filled with pictures of places and people of Key West as it was "in the day." I find it hard to bear sometimes when people want to claim Key West for themselves and their era. As I grow older I find myself surrounded by this attitude and I resist it. It is to Key West's credit that everyone wants a piece of it but really, I think if you look underneath the nostalgia some things haven't changed. The San Carlos, wedged between the Fast Buck CVS and the Strand Walgreens is a an outpost of the Miami Cuban emigres versus Cuban government argument that has remained the same pretty much though no longer a diplomatic representative of Cuba. It's a great place to watch movies or hear music but it spends most of its time in staunchly non commercial shuttered form. Not all of Duval Street is crassly commercial.
There is a CVS at 12 Duval, near the Ocean Key House.
You can't quite see the new one going up at 500 Duval from here but it's a five block walk:
Nor can you see the other CVS on Truman and Simonton, but it's close by. Eleven blocks separate the four national chain pharmacies listed above. But we aren't done yet! Note the solid uninspired generic shopping mall architecture of this store:
The thing is Key West has developed no more vision now than it did in its past. Crass commercialism is an expression of economic vitality, and much of Key West's 20th century history was a cycle of booms (alcohol prohibition smuggling) and busts (the First Great Depression) then another boom (World War Two Navy) and then the indifference of a half century of the American pursuit of the foreign exotic vacation which pulled its horns in with the rise of Muslim fundamentalism and the fear of the foreigner, which leaves this little town ideally place to absorb the newly fearful domestic travelers seeking safe exoticism. And now we have another CVS a mile and a half from the one on Simonton, here in the supremely ugly but possibly useful Overseas Market. Nothing exotic here, move along please, locals only:
One can't blame Tony Falcone for selling his storefront to a winning bidder remembering he had made noise about the CVS interest in the store for long enough to give local entrepreneurs a chance, so there it is. And here's another Walgreens across the street from the CVS at Overseas Market. You have to wonder why Americans are willing to pay so much for so many medications to make this kind of market saturation profitable. The chain supermarkets nearby sell pharmacies, and there is one surviving local pharmacist in the Professional Building on 12th Street which houses the rump of the infamous Dennis Pharmacy much beloved on Simonton Street with the Naugahyde and chrome coffee shop (now a bank). Americans pay higher prices than anyone else anywhere else in the world for their medications. Why? Because corporate America has sold the freemarket myth so convincingly that price controls such as are governmentally mandated in the rest of the world don't apply here. Hence the plethora of identical, boxed, junk filled pharmacies on a four mile long island with 23,000 residents. Profit is the watchword so keep paying premium prices for your meds you free marketers with high blood pressure, diabetes and all the rest.
And yet it's not enough, it's never enough. There's one more being built at Mile Marker Five on Stock Island, just outside Key West. And if you don't think this is a harbinger of what's to come in the way of change for down at heel Stock Island, then you aren't paying attention.
The Aspen Institute's Rural Economic Policy Program has also been examining the peculiar dilemmas facing small rural towns. Its 1995 report, Rural Communities in the Path of Development: Stories of Growth, Conflict and Cooperation, distills a great deal of the wisdom that small town mayors and developments experts have acquired in combating sprawl. As distinctive, stable small towns, many communities have the luxury of deliberately choosing what kind of community they want to become. "We can't ignore the fact that this economy shapes people, and either arms them or disarms them in terms of being able to be part of the community," said Maria Varela of Ganados del Valle, Los Ojos, New Mexico. It's our desire to create a model of doing business in a way that we generate community, not just economic wealth.
The Aspen Institute outlines three strategies for dealing with rapid economic growth in small rural towns:
* Managing land use and resources to protect, for example, open space, environmental resources, historical structures and community character;
* Community-based economic development to restructure and diversify the local economy so that long-term and low- and moderate-income residents benefit from growth; and
* Community or civic capacity building to help communities confront change through goal-setting, education, leadership development, organizing, civic participation, conflict resolution and consensus-building.
The National Trust for Historic Preservation has also been active in helping small towns balance growth with community values. Through its National Main Street Center, the National Trust has provided technical expertise to help downtowns revitalize themselves in ways that build upon a town's historic identity. Another excellent resource is the Nature Conservancy's Center for Compatible Economic Development in Leesburg, Virginia.
The colonization of rural America by superstores such as Wal-Mart is another issue that calls for a response from small towns, whose downtown business districts are often decimated. The National Trust has two publications that address these issues: How Superstore Sprawl Can Harm Communities: And What Citizens Can Do About It, and Better Models for Superstores: Alternatives to Big-Box Sprawl. The first report, published in 1994, describes the actual economic, fiscal, environmental and social impacts of superstores, before outlining effective strategies for combating mall sprawl. The report also provides a number of case studies of small towns that have devised better models for dealing with the multinational retailers. The second Trust report, published in 1997, describes how such stores as Wal-Mart and Toys-R-Us have been integrated into existing downtowns rather than located on a town's fringe, where it typically contributes to sprawl and downtown decline.
Another player in combating superstores is Al Norman, who led a successful campaign to prevent Wal-Mart from locating on the fringe of Greenfield, Massachusetts. Norman now operates a consulting business, Sprawl-Busters, which advises community groups how to combat Wal-Marts that are not wanted.
So community intervention, not on the radar in Key West, is not unknown elsewhere.
This is the Strand I'd like to see back (in a photo from the Florida Public Library files). A place that welcomes you to downtown and even though the sailors and the gay men they attracted have gone elsewhere the rest of us who aren't fossilized could bring a modern yuppy vibe to this small town. I'm 56 and when I go and see live theater in winter I feel like I'm a youngster out on the town in Palm Beach. Key West is selling itself to rich old farts and to cruise ship tourism, simultaneously and schizophrenically. And this apparently divergent path motivated by maximum instant profit is the underlying reason why critics think that only now has Key West sold out to commercialism. The commercialism of the past was grounded in the community that lived here. The families that are the lifeblood of small towns can't afford it here. Schools lack parental involvement as parents are working too much in an effort to stand still, and without a University the city lacks the moral conscience of an educated middle class to point out that recycling, water conservation, solar energy, bicycle paths, pedestrian zones, trees and interesting eccentric stores are what improve quality of life and do not detract from it. If you look at small towns that win quality of life awards on national lists Key West is never among them. Yet this place has abundant live music, theater, movies, literary events, art galleries and decent eateries. It boasts an actual authentic native cuisine, a core of local residents who grew up here and a climate year round to die for. It's architeure is second to none. Yet places as oddball as Sandpoint Idaho, Kennett Square Pennsylvania and Bardstown Kentucky get national mentions as interesting places to visit. Any mention of Key West in the sidebar includes the tired notation that the city has lost some luster.
If you think Key West is a livable town stand on Stock Island near the new CVS site at eight o'clock on a weekday morning and observe the traffic backed up for a mile or more. Every work day they line up like desperate supplicants at a job fair. Which is another reason to work nights and live affordably in a modern home in the hinterlands of the canals of the Lower Keys (and to commute by motorcycle). These people line up to get to work in the city that is the economic engine of the Lower Keys, the city failing to find itself a new identity in a changing world.
Instead I shall tell myself it really wasn't that great way back when and in a rational world excess will level off and the pendulum will swing back etc etc... Still, I wish Fast Bucks hadn't gone.