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Homes

African mask collection blossoms into import shop

From ostrich eggs to Israeli goblets, two sisters bring collectibles from all over the world to their Tampa store.

By ELIZABETH BETTENDORF
© St. Petersburg Times
published March 14, 2003


At Macknificent Imports Galleria, sisters Patriva and Psalms Mack want to give their customers something they can take with them when they leave.

Knowledge.

The Macks' international imports store at 8320 W. Hillsborough Ave. offers a variety of home goods with an international flavor. Merchandise from Africa, Columbia, Peru, Thailand, Israel and China comes with mini-lessons in history and culture.

Soapstone objects carved by the Kisili people of Kenya are accompanied by printed cards explaining the origin of the craft, the same for a colorful Ndebele bride made by the small tribe in South Africa or the hand-painted crystal goblets from Israel.

At the store, three women buying decoupage ostrich eggs receive a lesson about the exotic art. The infertile eggs, legally imported, gleam beneath 80 coats of lacquer.

"When people walk out with the product, we want them to have the ability to talk about it," says Psalms Mack, an academic and career counselor at St. Petersburg College who holds a doctorate in education. "By talking about what they know, they can pass that knowledge on and also pass on where they bought it."

In the store, two of the women spend more than $300 combined buying ostrich eggs.

"I love the individuality of this store, the references to different cultures," says Sharon Shidler, a nurse at University Community Hospital in Carrollwood, who brought her mother into shop last week. "I had been here before and kept telling people about it, including my mother, who has traveled all over the world. The eggs made me think of her."

Shidler and her group browse for nearly 30 minutes, taking in the tapestries, fabrics, carvings, baskets, pillows, wooden serving spoons and original artwork. Prices range from $3 to well into the hundreds.

Patriva Mack, who retired from the Air Force last year at age 46, said she had always dreamed of opening an African import store.

"My love of African art began to take over my house slowly, room by room, spilling into the kitchen bedroom and bathroom," she says.

Patriva of Westchase and Psalms of Clearwater decided it might be interesting to open a retail store that carried items strictly from Africa, but they later decided to shape the idea into more of an international theme.

The shop opened Nov. 18.

Psalms Mack is the creative one; Patriva Mack has a head for numbers. Between the two, they manage to make it work, and they still call each other "Sis."

It's the right time in their lives for taking chances.

Patriva Mack is free to run the shop pretty much full time. Her sister is able to work some nights and weekends.

"She's definitely a military person, every penny counted, every dollar crisped and in the drawer," Psalms Mack says with affection. "We agree on 99 percent of what we do. Sure, we fight sometimes. But the rest of the time we're like a symphony."

* * *

Macknificent Imports Galleria is in the Caverne Home Design Plaza. Hours are 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Saturday, and noon to 6 p.m. Sundays. For more information, call 882-9494.

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