Today, “Best of the City” contests are a staple of city magazines, but 25 years ago they were something new. In 1991, we considered ourselves trailblazers when we decided to conduct a poll asking our readers to fill out a ballot printed in the magazine with their nominations of exceptional Sarasota stores, restaurants, arts and experiences in 39 different categories. We were thrilled to receive a few hundred ballots back in the mail, and concluded that based on such enormous interest, we should make the survey an annual event.
That proved to be a good decision. Our “Best of Sarasota” competition has grown exponentially over the past 25 years, morphing from a few pages in the magazine to a sprawling story that along with our readers’ choices now includes our editor’s picks of the “Best of the New,” local celebs’ personal favorites, and more. Mail-in ballots gave way to online voting some years ago, and this year, thousands of readers—including snowbirds and visitors from all over the country—voted for winners in 74 different categories. On April 19, more than a thousand people attended our sixth annual “Best of Sarasota” party at beautiful Selby Gardens, where guests enjoyed the grounds, the sunset and live entertainment along with a delicious array of food and drink from our winners.
Sarasota is certainly not the same place it was in 1991. Our population has soared, from 286,000 to 374,000 people, and those newcomers have helped transform us from a sedate, mostly Midwestern retirement community (where you could buy a museum-area house for $125,000 or a Carl Abbott-designed Gulf-front home on Casey Key for $685,000, as reported in that 1991 issue) to a cosmopolitan city known for its wealth and luxurious lifestyle, where a similar Casey Key home might fetch $6 million or more.
Some of the top vote-getters that first year are gone, if not forgotten, from Jacobson’s department store and the UnGala Gala fund raiser for the Ringling Museum to the now-shuttered Colony Beach & Tennis Resort. But it says something about our community’s commitment to excellence that a quarter of a century later, 35 of those first winners and finalists are still thriving. What’s more, a dozen of them were winners and finalists again this year.
I’m proud to congratulate each of them on 25 years of continuing achievement and to recognize them here.