July 13, 2008

The Demise of Consumerism in Bonita Springs, Florida

Bonita Springs building

Are There Things To Do Besides Eat, Shop and Build?

It doesn't take much looking around to see that things around the Community of Bonita Springs aren't quite the same as they use to be. At the risk of sounding like a codger with a "back in the day" story I will tell you this. I've lived in the Southwest Florida area for decades and have sold Bonita Springs real estate for almost ten years and I've never seen this area go through the growing pains and changes that have happened here lately. Call it ignorance or typical American excess, any way you slice it we put too much on our plate and now we're paying the price locally, nationally and figuratively.

Traffic on US 41 moves at a pretty good clip so you've seen some of the "for lease" signs and blank store fronts but you're probably only seeing a small portion of the distress. If you get on foot for a walk or run or even a bike ride you'll be surprised to see there are many more vacancies and sad stories that just blur into the scenery. Windows are painted "going out of business", restaurants are "closed for the summer" and windows signs advertise free rent sign on bonuses. Consumers in Bonita Springs have buckled down and they're watching their cash. Yes, consumers realized maybe they were just, uh, consuming too much.

For the most part Bonita Springs was built on one industry; Consumerism. We really have no other industry besides building, shopping and dining. The tomato fields and groves of yesteryear are now shopping centers, golf courses and housing developments. Our agricultural base was replaced with construction that eventually sprawled until it turned to quick sand and pulled us down with it.

So what are people doing with their time if they have quit the shop ‘til you drop and eat ‘til you pop pass times? I recently asked the question of about ten women and men gathered at a salon in Bonita Springs. People are starting to take advantage of some of the natural resources our area does offer. There are plenty of inexpensive things to do or things that have been paid for through taxes already. Besides the beaches, which are a given, locals shared some the ways they're recreating on the cheap.

For starters, when you get your trim notice for your property taxes this fall, take a look at what the money is collected for, it's actually itemized. I'm in Lee County and have quietly donated thirty five bucks to the Lee County Library System. All Lee County property owners have paid into the system. The library has seen an uptick in visitors and patrons finally using the system. If you haven't stopped in to see what your donation has provided you, you should. Why buy a book when you can borrow one for free? If the book you want is not at your local library, they'll even bring it in for you from another branch. How's that for service? This activity would require some reading. May I suggest some books on economics such as The Wal-Mart Effect? (This is a consumerism joke)

Outside adventures that locals mentioned include a lot of Southwest Florida parks and recreation areas. Canoeing, Kayaking and fishing in many of the local parks and waterways made the list, as well as, visiting local community centers. Estero Community Center was mentioned by more than one person as a great place to go. Other outside resources include Six Mile Cypress Slough, which is actually not as hot as anyone would imagine since it is covered by cypress canopy and shaded. There isn't a charge to enter but parking donations are accepted. There is an extensive boardwalk system through the slough that is stroller and wheelchair accessible so the whole family can benefit from getting close to nature.

A common theme that I noticed is a sense of community beginning to germinate. In place of going out to frivolously spend money or eat just for the sake of eating, people are getting together. Play groups are forming or meeting up to socialize, both adult and child. Gulfcoast Moms are bringing their kids to the theater for free summer movie matinees and grown ups have formed their own groups.

I spoke with lovely woman named Diane who is a resident at Highland Woods in Bonita Springs, Florida. She and about a dozen or so other ladies formed a "Sex and the City" group, an idea that sprung after they saw the movie. The group now gets together weekly at revolving residences to watch a few episodes on DVD and dine amongst the company of friends. So far someone or another has owned the DVD's that are being watched, but a rental is an inexpensive route to go if they have a gap in the series.

It looks like everyone is making a path through our changing economy in their own way or they're looking for a way to do it. Without question it has been very painful experience to many people, families and Bonita Springs businesses. Maybe we'll all learn something from the process and move toward getting back to basics.

I'm not sure when it fell out of fashion to spend time family around a dinner table or to play a board game with our kids, but it kind of did. Hopefully, we'll learn that we don't need a television in every room of our home, that dining out every day of the week made us fat, that leaving the lights on wastes energy we can't afford to lose and that another pair of new jeans isn't a necessity and the money spent on them would better serve a person in a savings account covering their fanny somewhere else down the road, instead.

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