Aside from the obvious benefit of avoiding the giant crowds tromping through giant, fluorescent-lit stores the size of airplane hangars, there's something about buying gifts at an independent Tampa store that just feels good.
It's hard to beat the big box stores in their selection or prices, but when it comes to personal service, or finding something unique, these are among the locally owned holiday shopping options we love.
♦ Squaresville, 3224 W. Bay to Bay Blvd. Whether you're looking for platform shoes with a goldfish in the heel, a giant afro wig, or a Member's Only jacket, Squaresville is well known as the place for vintage threads. But the shop's old-school band tees and odds and ends from the 50s, 60s, 70s and 80s, from lava lamps to lawn flamingoes, make unusual gifts.
♦ Bayshore Market, 5025 Bayshore Blvd. Hand-painted signs advertise the seasonally changing wares — from orchids, to crawfish pies, to local honey — at this charming little market near Ballast Point. Beautiful potted plants and baskets filled with gourmet treats are gift options.
♦ Mojo Books & Music, 2540 E. Fowler Ave. A real-deal record store (remember those?) with a big selection of books awaits at this USF hangout. Find a vinyl copy of that song you and your giftee sang at karaoke that one time, or a used paperback of “On The Road” for a wanderlusting pal.
♦ Agora, 1515 E Seventh Ave. and 231 Beach Drive NE, St. Petersburg. The smell of incense is thick in this large, bazaar-like shop with imported gifts from India, Thailand and other Eastern locales. Pillows with mirrors sewn into them, hand-carved puzzle boxes and crane-shaped chopsticks holders are among the goods.
♦ Health Mutt, 6116 North Central Ave. This Seminole Heights pet boutique specializes in all-natural pet foods and treats for people who are health nuts about caring for their cats and dogs. Look for chew toys made of naturally shed deer antlers and cloth-covered recycled plastic bottles.
♦ Schiller's Architectural and Design Salvage, 1002 N. Rome Ave. Some of the oddities spotted among the warehouse's crates of reclaimed doorknobs and other building bits: cigar factory signs, 1930s parking meters, a hand-hewn canoe, a British phone booth and an antique pickle barrel. Perfect for big or small one-of-a-kind gestures.
♦ Greiner's, 117 Whiting St. This old-school, tailor shop has been doling out high-end menswear in Tampa since 1981. It's great for ties, cufflinks, sweaters and other accessories.
♦ Cleanse Apothecary, 5127 N. Florida Ave. Browse, sniff and test the shelves of natural lotions, handmade soaps and candles in this haven of fresh-smelling, clean-feeling gifts. For the holidays it's offering a “bakers dozen” of 13 assorted soaps in a special gift box.
♦ Southern Brewing & Winemaking, 4500 N. Nebraska Ave. If you've got a home brewer (or an aspiring one) on your list, Southern Brewing has all the gear they'll need to ferment, filter and bottle homemade brews, including the hops and yeast.