The Greek Community Today
Tarpon Springs preserves a strong ethnic and maritime character. Greek heritage has been reinforced with the return of many former residents who moved North for work, as well as the influx of other Greeks attracted by the cultural infrastructure. Among Tarpon Springs 25,000 residents the percentage of Greek descent has shrunk to about 20% as many have moved to nearby communities for work or larger homes. Still, the city is the epicenter of a corridor that hosts such a large ethnic population that the Greek government established a consulate in Tampa. Greeks, particularly those with Dodecanese heritage, retain significant political power at all levels. While some major U.S. cities have a larger Greek population, no other has a greater percentage of residents with Greek heritage than Tarpon Springs.
The emerging ethnic character of Tarpon Springs coincided with the development of mass tourism in the early 20th century, so businesses based on cultural tourism developed early. Revolving around its Greek heritage and sponge industry, tourism is Tarpon Springs' biggest business. It remains centered on Dodecanese Boulevard, along the docks where boats unload sponges and tourists take cruises. Across the street, the old Sponge Exchange was demolished and turned into boutiques. A plethora of Greek eateries are frequented by locals and tourists. Some ethnic businesses cater primarily to locals, such as nearby Athens Street's market, bakery, and traditional kafeneia. The latter are gender-exclusive establishments where men gather to imbibe coffee and spirits, play cards, smoke, and discuss politics or sports.
Greek identity is expressed and reinfored through an array of everyday activities and special events. It is reflected in the built environment (cemeteries, sponge docks, Greektown, St. Nicholas Cathedral), boats, occupations, music and dance in restaurants or community events, social organizations, rites of passsage, beliefs, family values, foodays, sacred and secular events, and religious practices. Tarpon Springs also provides important cultural resources to the state and region, such as the annual Epiphany celebration or local musical groups.