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How a feisty Florida town fends off malls

Communities can take a lesson from this old pirate's nest: Locals can control their environs.

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Popular: Airboats have replaced drug-running as the No. 1 industry in Everglades City, Fla.

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A fisherman turned drug smuggler turned retired old salt, Floyd Brown claims he can find his way back here – one of the last Florida frontiers – without a compass from anywhere in the Gulf of Mexico. It's a skill, he says, he put to use more than once when he ferried bales of marijuana from Latin America to the Shark River in the 1970s.

A direct descendant of the 19th century pirates who first settled here in these 10,000 islands, Brown is like many residents in Everglades City. Together they've managed to engineer a modern day coup in Florida: keeping out the crush of condos and chain stores.

Everglades City's moves to preserve its local charm are instructive, teaching communities in Florida and across the US how it's possible to build on the unique geography and history of a place to create its own future.

"A lot of towns, when they use the term character, what they mean is, 'Go away, don't bother me,'" says James Nicholas, a retired University of Florida real estate professor, whose own family has ties to Southwest Florida rumrunners, or Prohibition-era smugglers.

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