Getting Your Phil: What is the origin of the ‘Florida cracker’?

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By Phil Colpas

If someone calls you a Florida cracker, should you be upset?

The answer is … well, complicated.

There’s no doubt that the term “cracker” has long been used as a pejorative, a racial epithet directed toward white people. Its origins are disputed, but it seems to stem from the root word “craic,” a Gaelic word meaning loud conversation or braggadocious talk. 

During the Elizabethan era circa 1550, “craic” became “crack,” and referred to entertaining conversation or “cracking” a joke.

Later, in the 1700s, the term cracker was used to describe Celtic immigrants to the southeastern United States who had the reputation of being boastful and unruly. By the 1800s, those same immigrants had adopted the term, referring to themselves as crackers with a sense of pride.

In 1947, when Florida State University students were voting on the name of its athletic teams, Crackers finished in the top six. (They chose the Seminoles. Re-vote, anyone?)

So, if someone calls you a cracker, take it as a compliment … whether it was meant that way or not!

Closing of Crescent Beach Grocery represents the end of an era

When Crescent Beach Grocery owner Nancy Connelly announced in April that, after 19 years of running the store, she was retiring, selling everything and closing the doors forever, it was a bit of a shock.

Originally opened in 1952 as Crescent Beach Grocery and Sundries, the space at 1211 Old Stickney Point Rd. has been a market ever since, with assorted, funky shops surrounding it. 

Lucky enough to grow up on Siesta Key, I worked there in the late 1980s and early 1990s, through high school and junior college, when it was called Crescent Market. Back then, it was operated by the Messina brothers, Vince and Peter, who also ran all of the Quick Stop convenience stores in town and, for a time, Siesta Market in the Village.

Crescent Market was a proper, old-fashioned neighborhood grocery store, complete with a meat department with an actual butcher, a deli featuring fresh-made sandwiches and prepared hot foods and, of course, groceries. I worked every job possible during my tenure there: cashier, bag boy (no longer PC by today’s standards, the term was used freely in the ancient past), stock boy (OK, I’m seeing a pattern), sandwich maker, butcher’s apprentice, deli counter worker (interestingly, there was never a proper title for this occupation), produce manager … you get the idea.

The wonderful thing about doing almost every job provided a perspective that I don’t think is readily available anymore. It’s the old “walk a mile in my shoes” analogy, which provided a much better understanding of the work required in each department, and how those departments worked together.

And while technology and automation may have increased the overall alacrity of the shopping experience, it has done little to contribute to the knowledge base of those working in it. Case in point: Back in the day, cashiers (including yours truly) had to manually key in the department (“deli” or “meat” or “produce,” for example) and the price. There were no scanners in sight. Cashiers were also expected to be able to make change without the aid of a counting machine, using only their own mathematical skills and winning personalities.

This was indicative of the old-school, independent markets and mom-and-pop shops. Out of necessity, everyone did a little bit of everything. But this created some wonderful side effects, offering employees the opportunity to wear many different hats, to experience the business from various perspectives and, possibly most importantly, better understand how the job they’re doing affects other departments.

Now, most independent, neighborhood markets have long since been replaced by supermarkets and big box stores. I wonder how many young people today have the opportunity to work in a neighborhood market like Crescent Beach Grocery. Not many, I fear.

Phil Colpas
Author: Phil Colpas

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