WHEN local residents talk about the lure of Stuart, a dot-on-the-map place on the southeast coast of Florida, they often start by noting what it lacks: as in buildings taller than four stories or a downtown fast-food restaurant.
But all that is meant to showcase what the city and area — Stuart is the seat of Martin County — really offers: uncluttered shoreline; a historic downtown with boutiques and chic restaurants; and a former silent-movie theater, the Lyric, that has been refashioned into a jewel of a contemporary performing arts center.
Sunset from the park in Stuart Florida
Perhaps most important, though, is the local population, which appreciates Stuart for what it is — and isn’t — and has fought hard to preserve its quiet, free-spirited character. “There are a lot of independent souls here,” said John Loesser, the longtime executive director of the 500-seat Lyric.
Mr. Loesser added that he can tell as much from his audiences. They not only devour a cultural diet of everything from southern rock to the Borscht Belt shtick of Jackie Mason, they also stand and cheer for just about every performer. That’s a rarity in South Florida, where theater patrons are known to leave before the end of a show to beat the traffic.
Then again, Martin County isn’t like sprawling Palm Beach County, its mobbed neighbor to the south, where the emphasis is more on the chattering social scene associated with the condo-community and country-club lifestyle. And it’s also not like St. Lucie County, its increasingly crowded neighbor to the north, which has gained a reputation as a poor man’s Palm Beach.
“We’re the rose between the thorns,” said Dave Derrenbacker, a broker with Water Pointe Realty Group in Stuart.
All three counties, which rely on seasonal winter and spring residents from the North to fuel the local economy, have seen growth slow in the past year, as a once-booming real estate market has stalled. But in Stuart and nearby towns like Jensen Beach and Palm City, the slump has been less noticeable because growth has always been kept in check, local real estate agents say.
That means that those who buy second homes in the area today, ranging from million-dollar waterfront estates to close-to-downtown single-family homes priced below $500,000, are able to enjoy much the same lifestyle as buyers from a decade or two ago.
And that relaxed attitude of the local residents can’t be overlooked. That’s why John Olson, a lifelong resident of the New York region, bought a second home here in 2001 — a three-bedroom house for around $500,000.