Welcome: You may want to stay awhile

Many people in Tallahassee share a common story. I’ve heard it time and again at different social gatherings and events, so much so that I’ve come to expect it. The story is often told over cold glasses of sweet tea or happy-hour drinks, and it goes something like this:

“Well, I came to Tallahassee for a new job (or to go to school), but I never intended to stay. I thought I’d be here a few years, and then I’d move on. … That was 15 years ago.”

If you’ve lived in our capital city any amount of time, you’ve likely heard similar stories, or perhaps the story is your own. It certainly has become mine.

You see, Tallahassee has a way of growing on you. Somewhere after your second or third year here — when you thought you’d be moving on — something happens. You realize, “I’m pretty comfortable. I think I might stay awhile.”

Rebeccah Cantley Tallahassee Democrat Managing Editor at Maclay Gardens Park.

And so you do. Then three years turn into five years, five years into 10 years, and before you know it, you’ve never left the town you were sure you’d leave. But you don’t regret it. Tallahassee has become home.

I had never been to Tallahassee before I came here six years ago to interview for a job at the Tallahassee Democrat. My impressions of Florida were based on trips to Disney World, to my grandparents’ winter home in Orlando and to the homes of other family members in Palm Beach County.

When I drove into town on a cool October night, I passed a line of beautiful Live Oaks along Thomas-ville Road and resolutely declared, “This is NOT Florida.” That, my friends, is precisely the reason longtime Tallahasseeans stay.

We aren’t South Florida with its condo-lined shores. The coastal areas in Franklin, Wakulla and Gulf counties, which Tallahasseeans consider the backyard — and a lovely one at that, are old Florida. Here, men and women still make a living combing oyster beds, and we count ourselves lucky to take an afternoon drive to Apalachicola for our fill of world-famous oysters.

You’ll often hear people say that Tallahassee is “such a small town,” and it’s true. We are a place of intimate connections. Talk to one new acquaintance, and you’ll discover that you have at least five friends or colleagues in common. But don’t be fooled, this is no sleepy town.

Tallahassee has quaint charm, but with two major universities and the state Capitol, big things happen here. The mix of small-town and big-town is what keeps many of us content — we have the best of both worlds.

But Tallahassee won’t just reveal itself to you. Getting to know her takes a little effort. A word of advice: don’t listen to the folks who say there’s nothing to do here. I’ll admit it; I thought that too during my first couple of years, but once I sought involvement in a few of the many social groups and volunteer organizations available, my calendar became full.

If you’re new to town, this publication, Living Here, offers listings of clubs, social groups, volunteer opportunities, churches, restaurants and more to help you find your place in Florida’s capital city.

So, sit back with a cold glass of tea and forget your plans of leaving. What you discover here will likely make you want to stay.