It takes more than living local to be a local
Feeling like a local is more about the location of your heart than the location of your feet. Some people come to the sea shore after spending years away and fall right back into their place as if they never left. Like a school of fish, we know our own kind when we see one and welcome them with open fins.
For others it takes a little time to blend in and to learn the correct shoaling behaviors without feeling like an idiot. I don't know all the right people or have the best sandal-tan but I'm getting there. But the good thing is that on our beach there are no outsiders, no black sheep or ugly ducklings. Everyone who has ever fallen in love with our beach is a part of our ecosystem and remain that way even when they are away for a while.
My sisters feel like Destin natives even though they can only come a few weeks a year, you all know plenty of others that feel the same way. The beach beckons you and extracts the instinct in all of us to return to the sea, that's why it is so hard to leave. There is a reason 80% of people around the world live within 60 miles of a coast. It's a source of life, not only for the body but for the soul.
My grandfather hHugh Norton started working in the area in the late '70s, opening a full-time office in 1982 in the upstairs of a building off Eglin Parkway. He would have loved to open an office in Destin but there were no buildings with upstairs back then. There wasn't anything built higher than 12 feet unless it was on stilts. Fort Walton and Panama City were considered "town", Destin and Panama City Beach were the sticks, and Santa Rosa Beach was the absolute boonies.
In those days the two lane beach road was the ONLY road before Hwy 98, the mid bay bridge wouldn't be built for another 10 years, and you would be crazy to live that far from civilization. So hardly anyone did. People may have come to visit but only someone running away from something else came to stay. We admire these people now for the groundwork they laid but they wouldn’t have wanted our praise, they would have wanted to be left alone.
They were good at keeping secrets too because while other beach towns like Jacksonville saw population growth of 150% between 1960 and 1970, Tampa 120% between 1950-1960, and Panama City 122% between 1940-1950, the best Destin ever did was 37% growth between 1990-2000. Even Walton County (mostly Santa Rosa Beach) has been in the top 5 fastest growing counties in the country for the last few years.
Don't get me wrong, Destin has changed a lot since then, a LOT. Remember 2003? My car is that old, people wear shoes that old, its recent memory. Back in 2003, Alys Beach was a dream without a single structure or road. The closest schools to 30A were Panama City Beach and Destin. You could set up a chair on the beach and not see another umbrella. Nobody argued about where you were allowed to park.
Go back to 1994, the year Schindler's List won Best Picture, and you will see there was no back road from Destin Commons to Airport Road because there was no Destin Commons and nothing in between. Kelly Plantation was still just a plantation, Regatta Bay was just a bay, Rosemary Beach was nothing but flowers and stray gators.
Being a local means more than just coming here or even living here. It's about learning the history, feeling the story of the land under your feet, and complaining about the newcomers. It's what our forbearers would have wanted. But maybe we've all learned that being kind is a better way to go because a small community like ours means we rely on each other. We are easily outnumbered once the tourist season arrives so we need to stick together.
Our independent insurance agency has seen a lot in the last 40 years, proudly insured homes and businesses through the 20 Gulf hurricanes and 7 Atlantic hurricanes. We look forward to what new locals can bring for another 40 years on the Emerald Coast.
So how do you know when you've arrived and successfully joined the reef to become a local?
We would love to hear your thoughts on "You know you are a local when…" and we may use it in a future article! If you have any old photos or stories to share, feel free to drop us a line or stop by!
The image included with this article is the corner of Hwy 98 and 293 (mid-bay bridge) from the USGS circa 1994.