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What's brewing

This mall is cheap, but chic

Published May 16, 2003

Tampa's top shopping secrets aren't found on Nordstrom's clearance shoe rack or at Old Hyde Park Village's tag sale, set for Saturday.

For the real deals - the kind that make friends say, "No way!" - I head to Britton Plaza.

You know the aging strip center on Dale Mabry Highway at Euclid Avenue with the old-style Florida sign?

Built in 1959, the plaza isn't the most stylish, with its weathered Walgreens and bland Taco Bell, but it's fast becoming the cheapest.

I hate to sound like an agent for a shopping center, but consider the facts:

For bargain knickknacks, Britton has Dollar Tree and Tuesday Morning. For clothes, Stein Mart and Burlington Coat Factory. For food, the Tapper Pub and China Garden Super Buffet.

And coming this summer, the big three: Marshalls, Michaels and Big Lots.

For all of us southside shopaholics, this is a huge cause to celebrate. We'll be able to stay in the neighborhood, instead of driving north to Carrollwood or east to Brandon, to get deep discounts.

Britton owner Charles Bickimer, who bought the plaza with his brother, Raymond, in 1971, said the years of struggling to find and keep tenants are finally over. The plaza has no vacancies. (Old Hyde Park Village must be jealous.)

The biggest problem now appears to be parking. And dust from the neighboring Lowe's going up down the street.

Business owners attest to the plaza's renaissance.

Barbara Batsavage, co-owner of the Missing Piece furniture consignment shop, said it's living up to her store's motto: Spend wise, live rich.

Treasure Hunt Plaza is what she calls it.

Batsavage opened at Britton in September because the center draws people "interested in fluffing their nests." It also gets the right demographics: women, 35 to 55 years old, many with incomes over $50,000.

At Britton? Who would have guessed?

Certainly not those who cash food stamps at Albertsons or catch the bus at the mini-hub.

Certainly not the people at Tapper's Pub, who over the decades watched JCPenney, Sears and Publix rise and fall flat from lack of business.

That's the beauty of Britton.

It caters to all income levels, from the thrifty millionaires who live in mansions along Bayshore Boulevard to the working folks who live in mobile homes along Gandy.

Many times, you can't tell them apart.

Britton's for shopping, not people watching. No need to break out the capri outfit and high-heeled sandals. (Save them for International Plaza.)

Sweats and sneakers work the best here for lugging all the loot.

Britton is about buying in bulk.

And indulging, guilt-free.

I head to the Dollar Tree for just about any household item, from sponges to gift bags. After eyeing a set of dishes at Williams-Sonoma, I found some look-alike bowls for a fraction of the cost.

Break one? Who cares. I can always get another.

Ceramic flower pots also go for a buck. Fill them with African violets and line them along a window sill and, voila, friends will start calling you Martha.

Or, want to impress someone with a dog? Buy a bunch of squeaky toys.

China Garden feeds the weary shopper with $4.99 all-you-can-eat lunch buffets. Behind a veil of smoke, there's Tapper Pub, where meaty sandwiches sell for $4.95.

Kay Groetsch, a Pub manager, is a fixture there. She's been working at the bar since it opened in 1967 and remembers Britton's bleaker days. The Pub hasn't changed much, but the plaza certainly has.

Definitely for the better, she says.

The Pub still has bottles of champagne for $15, though Groetsch admits they don't get many takers.

This crowd will wait until it goes on sale.

- Susan Thurston can be reached at 226-3394 or

[Last modified May 15, 2003, 08:47:32]

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