William C. Minarich

Residents of this Renaissance-inspired seaside city like it small and slow.

"There's a lot of hometown-ness in Venice," says BettyIntagliata, who didn't need much convincing to move here in 1981after many cold winters in Manchester, Connecticut.

It's easy to see what she means. Venice, Florida, seems like aMediterranean Mayberry set next to the Gulf of Mexico. It has lotsof parks and lots of parades, and in summer, Centennial Park'ssnow-white gazebo hosts crafts festivals and weddings. In winter,carolers roam the columned archways of the ItalianRenaissance-style shops in the MainStreet district.

At Tropical Scenes Island Interiors, Denise McNally stocks aneclectic mix of "Mermaid Crossing" signs and copper plantsculptures. A three-piece resin alligator surfaces in a window boxout front. "I come in in the morning and put my gator out," shesays. "Everybody opens, and they're sweeping the sidewalk. It'slike Europe."

Her shop faces Venice Avenue, one of the town's three principalstreets. It leads straight to the gulf, passing tennis courts and1920s-era Mediterranean Revival homes with arched entrances andbarrel-tile roofs.

Troy Ballew moved to Venice from Phoenix with his wife and twoelementary school-age daughters. "They play out front, and we don'thave to worry," he says. "[Venice is] smaller and slower. Andthat's a good thing."

The town has grown up a lot in the 45 years since John Ryanarrived as a 6-month-old baby. But even with 18,000 people now,Venice holds on to its small-town character. John recalls the daythe Venice High football team headed off to become state championin 2000. "If you saw it in the movies it would bring a tear to youreye―people lining the street to wave good-bye."

You might find Heather Bibbee down at The Soda Fountain havingher favorite "handmade" milk shake: chocolate-peanut butter. Or,come sundown, she might be out with the couples and kids by thejetty to watch Beggar the dolphin do his tail-walking routine,hoping for handouts. "It's absolutely surreal," Heather says.

Local lore claims the dolphin was released from Floridaland, atheme park in nearby Osprey that closed in 1971. Like so many inVenice, Beggar found a place to stay for good, among lastingneighbors.

(published in 2005)

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