1. Home
  2. life
  3. news
  4. Why a boomer left coastal Florida for a rural Arkansas town of 900 residents: 'I didn't think we'd make it' to retirement in Florida

Why a boomer left coastal Florida for a rural Arkansas town of 900 residents: 'I didn't think we'd make it' to retirement in Florida

Noah Sheidlower   

Why a boomer left coastal Florida for a rural Arkansas town of 900 residents: 'I didn't think we'd make it' to retirement in Florida
  • Milan Novak moved from Florida's Atlantic Coast to rural Arkansas, citing the quiet of small-town life.
  • Novak's transition to rural life was made difficult by limited job opportunities.

Milan Novak, 67, decided over a decade ago that Florida's Atlantic Coast wasn't right anymore for him. So he decided to move from his city of 24,000 along the beach to a town of just 900 in rural Arkansas.

It took him years to adjust to the pace of life and to live on a limited income due to a lack of jobs in his new home. Still, he's valued the quiet of his community and the simplicity of life in a small town.

"I had no idea what the hell we were going to run into once we moved here," Novak told Business Insider. "We knew nothing of the area."

While many older Americans continue moving to Florida, some have told BI that Florida has lost its feeling of "paradise." Some have cited rising home and insurance prices as motivations for leaving, despite acknowledging they'll never find weather as consistently good. One couple who recently moved to rural Missouri said they moved due to a population influx and political changes, seeking a lower cost of living.

Leaving Florida and settling in Arkansas

Novak was born in New Jersey but moved to Florida at 19. When he first moved, he said his small town had one traffic light and plenty of farmland, though he noticed more strip malls began to open up with worsening traffic.

His father opened a small beer and wine bar, though it didn't pull in enough to support the whole family, so Novak worked at a gas station in town. He ended up working at a car dealership, building his way up to service manager at two Chrysler Dodge stores.

Novak lived in Edgewater, about 20 miles south of Daytona Beach on Florida's east coast. He bought his house in the early 2000s for $181,000. He said the area became more touristy and commercialized, contributing to "ungodly" traffic, and he suspected it would be challenging to make ends meet as his area became more expensive.

"If I had a little more income by retirement age, I may have been able to stick it out, but I doubt it," Novak said.

Eventually, he quit the car business in 2009 — though not after being persuaded back in for another two years — and wanted to shift to something entirely different. He knew he would retire within the next decade, and he wanted to start life anew in a different part of the country, even if it meant not having a job lined up.

His wife wanted to sell his 4,000-square-foot Florida home, as their kids had moved out, and he and his wife wanted to downsize.

They put the house up for sale in 2011, though nobody wanted to buy it. He said they "practically gave it away" in 2012 for $185,000.

They decided to look in the South Central US to be closer to family. They looked into Willow Springs, a rural city in Missouri's Ozark Mountains, though every property they found was between 10 and 20 acres. Realtors also told them the area had a drug problem, though they thought the beauty of the Ozarks would be calming as he approached retirement, especially after decades of working with cars.

He stumbled upon a home in Mammoth Spring, Arkansas, and within a week, he signed an offer. The about 1,000-square-foot, two-story home was just $38,000 with an acre of land, on which they built a barn and workshop. They moved in six months later.

"We just knew we bought a house three miles down a gravel road in the middle of nowhere," he said. "I knew we didn't have internet, and everything was dial-up at the time."

Adjusting to rural life

He knew moving from coastal Florida would come with colder temperatures. In his first two months, he got a foot of snow, followed by another two feet over the next two months. Eventually, they invested in changing their heating system and installing different doors.

"This house was very poorly insulated, and I went through a full tank of propane in less than a month in December," Novak said. "I was like, oh my god, did I make the right move? This is unbelievable, and at this rate, I can't afford to keep this house."

He bought two four-wheelers for himself and his wife to ride around in, as many roads near him are dirt. One day, he took a ride to a creek and introduced himself to a group of locals. The group already knew him and his wife as "the two people from Florida who have got to be on the witness protection program because nobody moves from Florida to Mammoth Spring."

Fulton County, where he lives, is a dry county, which he said was an interesting transition, though many who drive by his house carry alcohol.

Without a job set up, Novak said the first few years were difficult, as the only jobs in his area paid minimum wage — which was $6.25 when he first moved. He worked for a few years at local restaurants to afford his living costs.

He worked the night shift at Walmart before going back into the car business as a salesman, which he hated. His neighbor successfully ran for county judge and got him a job as his assistant, though he soon after retired as his back issues worsened. He was able to collect Social Security at 62 while his wife took a job as an administrative assistant for a flooring company, which supplied them with health insurance.

"There is no work around here; it's all rural. If you don't have a farm, you're not eating," Novak said. "We struggled for many years until now, and we're doing good."

Now, in addition to "soaking in the quiet," he does woodworking projects and maintains his property. He said there's always something to fix or tend to, especially with having three dogs and five cats.

It keeps him busy, though he said there's little to do in his area — there isn't even a grocery store, convenience store, or gas station near him. There are a handful of restaurants in the downtown, some of which get foot traffic from tourists visiting the spring. There's a small state park near him with beautiful trails, though he acknowledged it often doesn't compare to the beach.

"In the bank, there's a picture of Main Street back in 1914, and you'd swear you're looking at the same picture now," Novak said.

He has no intention of moving, though he said his property is worth about $150,000 now, more than triple what he bought it for. His goal is just to live peacefully and try to stay healthy and active.

"I can't make any long plans, and I'd be lucky if we're all here tomorrow," Novak said.

Have you recently moved to a new state or left the United States for a new country? Reach out to this reporter at

Popular Right Now