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New York retirees make new home in Hernando County

SPRING HILL

It's not even 6:30 a.m. when the bell on the door of NY Gourmet Bagels begins to jangle. • Soon, eight of the bagel shop's regulars will stream in for a cup of coffee, a hand-rolled salt bagel and a mini-dose of New York. • "Ay, Biggie! There he is!" • "Yo Frankie, how you doin'?" • They're New York police officers, meter maids, crossing guards and contractors who fled the Northeast's punishing winters and steep cost of living for a cheaper, warmer life in Hernando County. • They're homesick for New York. But they're in Florida to stay. • "None of us can afford to move back," Bob Lanigan, 68, said. "And even if we visit, the New York we remember is gone." • Recently, New York City began work on a plan to keep its elderly from moving away. For New York retirees, moving away often means moving here. • To keep New Yorkers in New York, the state wants to add seconds to crosswalk signals, clean up dirty gutters and build free bathrooms. The plan could extend to building age-friendly neighborhoods, complete with large-type menus and benches to rest on during errands.

The NY Gourmet Bagels regulars said it wasn't dirty gutters or a dearth of free bathrooms that drove them out.

If New York would increase the January temperatures to 70 degrees, they said, and cut the cost of living in half, they'd move back.

"But they can't make it affordable," Lanigan said. "They just can't."

For decades, nice weather, lower taxes and cheaper real estate have drawn retirees from the East Coast to Florida, said Dr. Stephen Rayer, a research demographer for the University of Florida's Bureau of Economic and Business Research.

Hernando County particularly is a mecca for the elderly. Almost one-third of Hernando's population is older than 65.

NY Gourmet Bagels co-owner Frank Mangiapane says 80 percent of his customers are former New Yorkers.

"Once you adjust to the Florida lifestyle, you can't go back to paying thousands of bucks just for a place to live," said Frankie Bacala, 61. "Retiring to Florida is not a two-way street.

Lanigan said when his brother-in-law died, his sister wanted to move from a house to a smaller condo on Long Island. She couldn't begin to afford the $750,000 price tag.

Others with similar stories found themselves in Spring Hill, where they could buy more with their Social Security benefits. Hernando County's average home sale price is about $130,000.

Here, they have bigger yards, fewer taxes and easier lifestyles.

The differences irk them, Lanigan said. It's $15 for a pack of cigarettes in New York; $14 for a New York toll.

"New York is a wonderful place to grow up and live," said bagel shop co-owner John Shaw, 65. "But not to grow old."

The regulars compare their bagel joint to Cheers. New York's sense of community can't be duplicated, they say, but they make a stab at it each morning over their bible — the New York Post.

Under Yankees and Jets posters and a banner reminding customers that the owners "do it betta," everyone knows everything about everybody, from what car they drive and what time they show up — Lanigan was five minutes late — to the sordid details of crazy ex-wives and brushes with the IRS.

And like Cheers, everybody knows your name. Or nickname.

Lanigan is "Big," Mangiapane is "Fat Man," and 79-year-old Jackie Gernovich is "the Scratch-Off Lady," in honor of her lottery ticket habit.

With coffee cold and bagels gone, Shaw and Lanigan agreed the tradition of a cheap Florida retirement is fading. Fees and taxes have gone up. Gas and license plates cost more.

Shaw said soon, increasing costs could drive retirees elsewhere: South Carolina, maybe. Or Arizona.

Lanigan shook his head.

"People will never stop coming to Florida, because it's always been the place to retire," he said. "And everything is cheaper than New York."

Laura J. Nelson can be reached at lnelson@sptimes.com or (352) 848-1432. Follow her on Twitter at @laura_nelson.

New York retirees make new home in Hernando County 07/24/10 [Last modified: Friday, July 23, 2010 8:23pm]

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