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Thursday, Apr 24, 2014
Business News

Mullins: A new breed of day care — at the mall


In a somewhat unorthodox way, the upscale International Plaza mall will soon open a very, very upscale day care center.

Yoga classes for kids. Art lessons by trained instructors. Language classes, and even kickboxing and karate. All open to children age 3 months and up for $30 a month, so their parents can peruse Louis Vuitton, the Apple Store and Tiffany & Co.

Here’s the twist. The day care center will be part of the soon-to-open Life Time Fitness center, and parents need not be members of the gym to drop off the progeny.

Normally, Life Time builds massive health complexes with elaborate gyms, health and metabolic diagnostics labs, medi-spas with Botox, restaurants and salons — plus kids’ activity centers where parents can park the children while they work out. And normally, Life Time only offers supervised child care to gym members while the parents are on site.

But in Tampa, the setup is a bit different. The overall Life Time complex is still a whopper at 55,000 square feet. (That’s Publix-sized.) Yet this will be a bit smaller than normal. (Alas, no outdoor water park.) That heightens the need to make a big splash in the highest-income ZIP codes in the area.

Their target: People who know the subtleties of Ballast Point versus Beach Park as much as Stuart Weitzman versus Tory Burch. So the gym is opening the day care center to any kid — whether the parents are gym members or not, or working out or not. That’s still going to be a self-selecting crowd. If parents are shopping at International Plaza regularly, then $30 is hardly enough for lunch.

Even by South Tampa standards, the new gym will be a standout. Besides a full-size spa and healthy-eating care, the health center alone will offer a metabolic testing area that can measure your cholesterol, blood sugar, oxygen absorption and overall calorie-burning rate. Sports med specialists can give you a workup to rival those of Olympic doctors. And they’ll build out a 365-day diet plan tailored to the workout regimen you’ll do there. For instance, if your goal is just fat burning, then running too fast to talk comfortably is likely pushing yourself into an aerobic workout that’s building endurance rather than burning fat. That’s a subtle yet important distinction for people who are training for a 5K race versus exercising for thinner pants.

As for the day care, there are some limits. Child care is available for three hours at a time for each kid. That’s a revealing duration of time. It’s not quite long enough for working parents who need actual day care. But it’s plenty of time for wealthy moms who want a morning workout, spa treatment and stroll between Nordstrom and Neiman Marcus, so why not park the kiddos in a French class so you’ll have both hands free to carry bags of shoes?

Meanwhile, here’s other retail, restaurant and trend news around town:

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Amid the blizzard of news releases about Black Friday and Cyber Monday that have avalanched across my desk, one factoid stands out head and shoulders above the rest. Go ahead and guess what item Wal-Mart highlighted as a huge success on Black Friday. And bear in mind, this is the day when shoppers are in their most aggressive deal-hunting posture, highly attuned to deep discounts on items of real importance. Any guesses? OK, here’s your answer: Towels. Wal-Mart sold 2.8 million towels. Apparently, Wal-Mart executives said, people have lots of guests around during the holidays, and they’re throwing lots of fancy holiday parties (Wal-Mart customers?) and they need lots of new towels. I guess so. Good thing Wal-Mart also sold a mere 2 million TVs and 1.2 million tablets.

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The “better burger” trend continues apace, and with it, there’s a new round of growth at Tampa-based Burger 21. Owned by the same parent company as The Melting Pot, the Burger 21 chain just announced plans to open another 18 locations nationwide. It’s quite a list: Nine new locations in Florida, one in Georgia, three in Virginia, two in Arizona and one each in Maryland, Pennsylvania and New York. That may be a bit behind Five Guys, which has so many locations that they may now have to open new restaurants INSIDE other Five Guys locations. But Burger 21 is betting big that the better burger trend keeps growing.

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Real rocks in your cocktail? Let me explain. Drink “rocks” are stone cubes that you’re supposed to chill in the freezer, then drop in your cocktail to keep it cold. Presumably, they keep the drink colder longer and don’t dilute the mixology.

The gimmick has been around for many, many years, and it’s marketed as a “classic” way to have a cocktail. But from my observation, the rocks are midway between oddity gift at Restoration Hardware and the clearance rack at Burlington Coat Factory. How do I know this? Because cocktail rocks are now in stock at hip retailers Restoration Hardware and UncommonGoods. But I also found them on the clearance rack at Burlington.

As for how they work in a drink, I asked Dean Hurst, general manager of Sidebern’s and director of spirits for Sidebern’s, Bern’s Steak House and the Epicurean boutique hotel: “I still like the sound of an ice cube rattling around in my glass. It’s part of the experience. The ice chills the spirit and, more importantly, brings the proof down a bit as it melts, softening the bite and releasing aromatics. By the end, I can make the decision to repeat transformation or call it a night.”

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Odd thing about Starbucks is that for all the huge marketing and advertising the company does, company executives are actually quite shy with the media. Ask them if they sell coffee, and you’re likely to get a “no comment.” So, we reporters work around the margins like amateur spies to gather scraps of intelligence on their cafes. (I’ve had tougher jobs in my life, believe me.)

And so I bring you this item of interest: Starbucks is hardening its Tampa Bay cafes for hurricanes. In one huge SWOOSH, the Seattle-based chain has started work installing massive backup generators at seven area locations — and counting. North Westshore Boulevard, South Dale Mabry, East Hillsborough Avenue (Seminole Heights), Bay to Bay and so on.

Ask Starbucks why, and they give the now comfortably familiar response. “No comment.” But when The Big Storm comes through town and knocks out all the power, rest assured, at least the lights will be on at Starbucks.

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Still looking for New Years’ Eve plans? Here’s one idea: Hyde Park Village is hosting another Rooftop Eve party. Typically, they’re huge, high-energy events that take over the top decks of the parking garages. Tickets start at $150, with VIP cabanas at $250 per person (six people minimum).

Plus, there are dinner packages from restaurants like Ceviche and Timpano that include tickets to the party plus rooms available at the Embassy Suites downtown and the Epicurean. And, yes, the Epicurean will be open by then.

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