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For New Yorkers, it's a taste of the apple

Charles Carluccio is peddling a piece of the Big Apple.

For anyone who hankers for the New York Post, Carluccio just started delivering the late city final edition to doorsteps the same day it rolls off the presses in Manhattan.

"The reason why I picked Spring Hill to start is 60 percent of us are New Yorkers," says Long Islander Carluccio, 33, who drove delivery trucks for the sensational tabloid for 16 years.

"What I seen was people out here are a little older. They need convenience. They want the latest racing results and latest sports scores."

Carluccio set up shop along Spring Hill Drive on Oct. 3. Within 14 days, he had 24 home delivery accounts and five stores, including Kash n' Karry supermarket.

Each day, he delivers 250 free copies throughout Spring Hill with a note attached that reads: "Homesick? Order the New York Post. Please call 666-4133." He hopes the free editions will lead to steady customer accounts.

"You see," Carluccio says, "down here it was $1.50 a paper and it was a day or two late. What I'm doing is I'm bringing it to their door the same day and only charging $1."

The newsstand price is 50 cents, but Carluccio is selling each paper for $1 because they're flown to Tampa International Airport on Delta Air Lines about 8 a.m. every day, and he pays the $50 cargo fee, he said.

Carluccio, whose nephew and friend drive with him to Tampa to pick up the newspapers, then deliver them, says the copies arrive at Spring Hill homes by about 1:30 p.m. each day.

Making this project a success is a promise Carluccio made to his mother, Rosemarie, before she died of lung cancer in May. Carluccio's father and uncle worked for the Post, so this is a family dream in which Carluccio says he has already invested $10,000.

"Listen, you know what this business is?" Carluccio asks. "A lot of heart, sweat and blood. I owe my mother that much."

Carluccio's wife and three children are still in Long Island. He does not plan on living in Spring Hill because he owns a condominium near Fort Lauderdale. For now, Carluccio sleeps where he takes newspaper orders, in Suite E of Kirshy Plaza along Spring Hill Drive.

It's nothing fancy, just a few old desks and chairs and a phone with a very long cord.

Thursday afternoon, Carluccio was dressed in gray athletic shorts and a black golf shirt with the New York Post insignia in white letters. He stopped explaining his adventure when the telephone rang.

"Good afternoon. Piece of the Apple," Carluccio announced.

"Yes, it's $6 a week. It's same-day delivery. We're the only company in the state that does that. We can leave it in an envelope . . . whatever's convenient for you, ma'am."

The New York Post bosses in Manhattan are all for Carluccio's independent wholesale efforts in Spring Hill.

"We're not going national yet, but we felt that being it was a New York population to a large extent, we'd be able to sell more copies," said Anthony Michele, circulation operations manager.

The Post's overall circulation is 405,000 weekdays, and a little less than 400,000 Saturdays, he said. The company does not publish Sunday.

Carluccio is not stopping in Spring Hill. He plans to start Post outlets in Daytona Beach, Orlando and Fort Lauderdale, to name just a few. He already has set up 12 trademark yellow Post vending machines in Tampa. Here, a machine sits outside Kirshy Plaza off Spring Hill Drive, near Mariner Boulevard. The price is $1.25.

Thursday, the Post headline read: "Nicole said O.J. would kill her." A teaser at the top of the page read: "Cuomo: Pataki is D'Amato's puppet."

Where else can you soak up the latest from staff columnist Murray Weiss about Sammy "Bull" Gravano ratting on Gambino mob boss John Gotti's son, John Gotti Jr.?

"If you come from New York, you like to keep in touch," Carluccio said. "I know I do."