MOUNT DORA: THE AWAKENING OF A SLEEPY 'ANTIQUE TOWN'
Sleepy Mount Dora is gone. The quaint Central Florida town, dubbed the 'New England of the South', and well known for its historic downtown, moss-draped oak trees, and dusty antique shops, is no longer a tired little town.
Over the last decade, the popularity and demand for antiques have fallen. By contrast, the rents in the historic downtown commercial district have climbed making uptown Mount Dora and Renningers Antique Center a more attractive location for antique retailers.
The shift of Mount Dora's antique district, combined with a slow influx of more artists and younger residents has spurred a quiet awakening downtown. Dozens of eclectic boutiques now fill the quaint streets and feature everything from artisan accessories, books, and inspired decor to dog treats, unique gifts, kitchenware and apparel. The diversity has created a distinctive shopping experience in this lakefront village. Some stores still pay homage to the past by selling creatively repurposed and upcycled vintage items. Specialty stores have moved in that cater to the younger demographics and offer fine wines and original art, as well as olive oils and craft beers. Further evidence of change is the popular spice & tea retailer that sits in the former space of a Victorian quilt shop and the artisan bakery that now delights customers in a clock shop's old location.
Settled in 1874, it has only been in the last decade that downtown Mount Dora's culinary offerings diversified. Foodies enjoy everything from gourmet and ethnic fare including Thai, Peruvian, Italian, Mexican, plus a German restaurant, two British pubs and a French cafe. What was once a dusty watering hole has been transformed into an authentic Cuban restaurant. By day, outdoor cafes bustle with a lunch crowd, while at night cozy wine bars thrive on the narrow side streets where live music fills the air.
The art scene in Mount Dora is also ballooning with galleries exhibiting a higher caliber of art and a three-story building that once stood largely vacant is now home to a plethora of artist studios. Another formerly vacant building now houses a small, yet impressive Modernism museum. Adding more credibility to its reputation as an artists' community, the annual Mount Dora Arts Festival has garnered accolades as one of the nation's top juried art festivals.
The evolution of Mount Dora is more than skin deep. The recreational amenities added over the last several years also appeal to younger and more active residents and visitors. Segway tours, seaplane rides, paddle boarding and kayaking are common sights, as are the avid bicyclists that flock to Mount Dora for its challenging terrain and beautiful landscape. Recently, the desolate downtown shuffleboard courts were replaced with new tennis and pickleball courts and are now in steady use. Athletes from all over the state are drawn to the annual Mount Dora Half Marathon, as well as the annual Mount Dora Bicycle Festival. Needless to say, these are not the activities of a sleepy 'antique' town.
Through its continual metamorphosis, the town has kept its unique charm, friendliness and Spanish moss in abundance. Tourists still come in droves with a few looking for the antique stores, but many more returning for the fruits of Mount Dora's bountiful awakening.