This past winter my family did its bi-annual pilgrimage south for the holidays. My family lives in Tampa, FL and my husband’s family resides in Atlanta, GA (LOVE). It was a trip filled with micro-blast visits with family, but I had set an intention to seek out some new and upcoming retailers and spaces that were adapting to new lifestyles and demands that would inspire me and only validate my gut instincts.
First stop was Tampa. We only had 3 days in Tampa and one of those was Christmas eve.
Tampa is the epitome of all I despise in our modern retail world. Mega-stores, strip malls, neighborhoods you can’t walk in, and homogenization in all places. It’s hard to tell what city you are in when you fall asleep in a car on Dale Mabry Highway in Hillsborough County and then end up on US19 in Pinellas County. It all looks the same.
That said, I grew up in Tampa and know some secret stash spots that have managed to stay special and are now even becoming revitalized with the times.
South Tampa is the trendy hotspot and it’s booming. It’s the local where young professionals flock due to proximity to active lifestyles and nightlife. I was shocked at the amount of condominium development and new eateries. Happy to see it, but also sad to see some of the beautiful art deco buildings and dive bar haunts that I used to frequent in my youth, that had been torn down for new residences.
First stop for me is always the Yoga studio I practice when there. There are few places that offer Ashtanga yoga by authorized teachers, and as a niche practitioner I seek them out. Yogani Studios, where the lovely Jessica teaches, was recently acquired by Bella Prana Yoga.
Upon entering I was happy to see some updates to the interior and boutique. They added to their store assortment and had improved visual displays, but it was still a bit scattered. They carried some beautiful jewelry pieces, home goods, yoga clothes, etc. But the overall boutique lighting was dark. It was hard to see the beautiful macrame pieces for sale that hung from their walls because there was no accent lighting on them, clothing and jewelry didn’t pop.
Lesson: If you’re going to commit to retail, do it right or don’t do it at all. There are so many variables in play beyond having “stuff to sell” that influences conversion and helps with overall customer experience.
After yoga practice, I hit up my friend Kelly’s amazing cold press juicery, Squeeze Juice Works. She launched in St. Petersburgh and now has three locations.
Her husband Todd Bates is the creative guru behind their branding and packaging. There are a lot of cold press juice micro brands, but in my humble opinion, I love Squeeze Juice Works’ branding and their behavior in their market. They are engaged, involved, and active within their community, and that’s always good business.
I had myself a One Night In Bangkok. If you like spice and feeling cleansed—this is it. I am going to try and recreate this bad boy, but I may end up begging her for the actual measurements for balance. I, like many others, am happy to off the holiday food circuit.
While in Tampa, Yelp led me to the Oxford Exchange. A kind of uppity mixed-use space with retail, dining, a Warby Parker with a shared workspace and event space that’s added some revitalization to a wonky corner near University of Tampa (UT). Upon entering the space I felt the aesthetic of Renovation Hardwear, a hark back to the Florida Art Deco era that was far more “sophisticated” than the casual and sometimes lazy nature that Florida sometimes cultivates (tank tops, cut offs, shirt and shoes optional). It was nice to see people a bit more dressed up and a long wait for the restaurant. I love interior design and all I can say is the team and the contractors nailed it. The only thing I was bummed about was that the cafe did not have the most critical thing that I’d like to find when in Tampa—a Cuban coffee.
From Oxford Exchange we steered ourselves towards Hyde Park Village. At one point was the “place to be” when built up in the late 80’s then sputtered out through the 90’s and into the 21st century. It’s struggled to get strong anchor stores that drive consistent traffic and many of the smaller businesses and restaurants seem to be in constant rotation.There are still spaces that seem to be in constant rotation and I noticed vacancies. So either rent is too high, there isn’t enough traffic, or the flow and layout don’t work for stores to survive. Today, key retailers include The Paper Source, West Elm, Pottery Barn, Anthropologie, Lululemon, and a few revolving restaurants.
I was underwhelmed because there was still no strong local business vibe. Then…I stumbled on one gem.
Albisia Jewelry store. An engineer turned into a self-taught jewelry designer with a workshop in store, she is a true artisan and she’s beautiful. Her design aesthetic is minimal, modern, with a hint of wabi-sabi. She works with 14kt and 18kt gold and includes some precious gemstones found in her travels.
Images below from Albisia’s Instagram.
Her website and store are sophisticated, simple, and beautiful. But the brand person in me wants to know more about her and her design process. Her work is too beautiful and she is too talented to not try and understand it. I want to know her story and how it all happened. Stories are what draw us to you, not just what you put out. Perhaps I can convince her to let my partner and I do that for her (dreams).
Interesting to note: Albisia had a pop-up shop in the International Mall for the Holiday. This to me is very telling that the International Mall is suffering from mall syndrome. Tenants are either not meeting rent or it’s costing them money to be there.
Overall trip to Tampa was two thumbs up! As a family, we spent one day on the beach, where I got a small sunburn, slid down the Hippo Slide, watched volleyball players and collected some seashells while having some mini adventures in town.
Our next stop Atlanta.
Photo Credit: Tampa Postcard, Boston Public Library Archives