A visit to the fishing village of Cortez is a step back in time.
Digital Access For Only $0.99
For the most comprehensive local coverage, subscribe today.
No high-rises tower over the coastline, and the seafood is fresh off the boat.
The merchants of Cortez want everyone to come see what makes it such a special place.
Next week, they will debut an all-new way to explore the quaint seaside town: with a passport.
The Cortez Passport is a small booklet that allows visitors to collect stamps from businesses throughout the village. There are 24 merchants in the passport, but it only takes 12 stamps to earn a prize. No purchase is necessary to receive a stamp.
Once an explorer receives at least 12 stamps, the passport can be shown at Florida Maritime Museum to receive an official Cortez Explorer T-shirt.
"We want them to realize Cortez is a destination place," said Liza Kubik, who manages marketing for the Seafood Shack in Cortez.
Cortez is a census-designated place with a population of less than 5,000.
This is the first time that the villagers have gotten together to do something formally, according to Bob Slicker, general manager of Swordfish Grill. It was partially inspired by frustration over lack of a voice in local government.
"We don't have a city government," Slicker said. "Everything is farmed out for us here. We just need a better voice. This is our first attempt at a business association."
The idea started with no less than a conversation over fireball whiskey. Slicker and Dan Alderson, owner of Tyler's Ice Cream, were hit with inspiration and took the idea to others in the village.
They recruited the help of Kubik, who has marketing experience, to lead in the production of the passport.
"They wanted to help the museum out and they wanted the camaraderie," Kubik said of Slicker and Alderson.
Cortez's non-profits, the Cortez Village Cultural Center, the Florida Institute of Saltwater Heritage and Florida Maritime Museum, quickly joined in, too.
"It was really a community conversation," said Kristin Sweeting, museum supervisor.
The guided tour of Cortez ends at the Florida Maritime Museum for a reason. It brings home the history.
Founded by settlers from North Carolina in the 1880s, Cortez is one of the few commercial fishing villages left in Florida. Before those settlers, the Native Americans who lived in the area also fished.
The maritime museum works to preserve the unique story of Cortez. As the final stop on the tour, it puts a walk through the village in perspective.
The passport will be available to pick up for free at the Coastal Community Celebration at Florida Maritime Museum from 6-8 p.m. on June 7. It will also be available to the public at all participating locations starting June 8.
Some of the other businesses that visors can discover on a stroll through the quaint sea shacks and cottages of Cortez are Anna Maria Island Dolphin Tours, Annie's Bait and Tackle, Beach'n Rides and Rentals, Cortez Cafe, Cortez Surf and Paddle, O'Shucks Raw Bar and Grill, The Sea Hagg: Nauticals, Antiques and Curiosities and Waves Boat and Social Club.