• Calia Brencsons-Van Dyk

Florida roadside stores

While visiting, Florida, I try to introduce my husband and eight year old son to the Florida that I knew as a child. Over the years, that has included a visit to the springs of Weeki Wachee (with the famous mermaids), an airboat ride in the Everglades, meeting Winter in Clearwater at the Aquarium, and other obvious places with mice and sorcerers on the menu. It also includes stopping when I see an orange grove, especially when the blossoms are in full bloom and savoring the smell of the trees that used to tell me that I was coming home for the holidays.


A drive in Florida, often included a stop at a roadside stand or a store owned by local merchants long before the franchises became so abundant. These stores featured seashells and alligators, sometimes the poor creatures were alive, sometimes they weren't. Then there were the endless varieties of grapefruits and oranges that were available for you to purchase and eat throughout the rest of your trip. If you were really lucky, the had the soft serve ice cream with three flavors; vanilla, orange or both. The swirl of the two flavors was my favorite and to this day, reminds me of the Florida of my childhood.


These roadside stores used to be everywhere in Florida, they weren't chain stores like Cracker Barrel or Shell or Mobile, but they often had a place for you to pump gas and discover the state's many treasures. They were all mom and pop shops and were an important part of visiting Florida - as much as the orange groves that lined the roads used to be.


Slowly, over the past fifty years, Florida has lost the groves and, with them, the small stores have vanished too, replaced by Starbucks and other chains, and losing much of the local charm that made these roadside stands so memorable. Fortunately some remain and remind us of days gone by. One such place is Yellow Banks Grove in Largo, Florida, it isn't quite on the main freeway, but it is right before the bridge that connects you to some of the most beautiful beaches this country has to offer.


I had driven by the store several times during my recent stay in Clearwater Beach, and had wanted to stop there each time. Today, as our return to the UK approaches, I decided to make the U-Turn and go in. My son chose not to get out of the car, as he was enjoying a very important game of Minecraft or Roblox. Myself, I was determined to keep my childhood memories alive. So in I went - and it was like going back in time...the orange juice was fresh, the nets full of fruit were on the countertops, boxes of fruit were available for shipment. In their refrigerator they had Key Lime Pie that they make on site daily...so so so yummy. They also had local honey and home made marmalade and many other delicacies from the region.


For someone who makes her living in the food and lifestyle industry - these places are a treasure trove! For those of you visiting the Clearwater Beach area who want to see something that is actually reminiscent of Florida's past - and enjoy some truly American treats...If you are planning a beach vacation in Clearwater, be sure to add a pitstop to Yellow Banks Grove to your itinerary - the folks there are friendly, the juice is fresh, the ice cream swirls - and the Key Lime is one of the best I have ever tasted!


until next time, xx Calia


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