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Beautiful guzzlers alfresco

SUSAN THURSTON
Published July 4, 2003

Crowds swarmed Old Hyde Park Village last Wednesday night.

They didn't go to shop, I'm afraid. They went to drink beer, hang out with friends and drink more beer.

Thirty-seven kegs in all.

The event was part of the village's Live Music Series, held the last Wednesday night of each month from May to October. To many people, it's as much about summer as grilling out and going to the beach.

The retail center at Swann and Dakota avenues started the series 16 years ago, before many of today's regulars were old enough to buy booze. The event features live music, which mostly just lingers in the background.

Like the village, the series has evolved. Organizers used to stage it on Friday nights, but the TGIF gang - perhaps holdovers from the old TGI Friday's - refused to go home. On Hump Day, it wraps up about 9:30, to the relief of neighbors who must work the next day.

The revelers, too, seem gainfully employed. How else could they afford those Donna Karan skirts and Calvin Klein shirts?

TO SEE the latest fashion in Tampa, head to Hyde Park. On music nights, people arrive in strategically assembled outfits. No work clothes. No grocery store sweats.

Just their best new summer numbers.

Last year, there were capri pants and Kate Spade purses. This year, faded jean miniskirts and strappy sandals with French-manicured toenails.

Guys say the place bubbles with silicon. To that, we add Botox. There's an ample share of South Tampa "pretty people."

The event attracts twenty- to forty-somethings, obviously the bulk at the younger end. Many bring their dogs.

PEOPLE COME from around the corner and across the region: Brandon, St. Petersburg, even Lakeland. Looks deceive.

"Everyone looks younger than they are," concluded 26-year-old Ben Parker, a visitor from London.

Most people come to see old friends and meet new ones. Call it South Tampa's best daylight pickup joint.

First-timer Jennie Cash, 45, drove from Brandon and wasn't disappointed. Prospects aplenty.

"This is great," she said. "This is the place to meet people."

The most common complaint centers on timing. We're in Florida. In the summer, it's hot or rainy.

The village closes off Dakota and Snow avenues near the main fountain to accommodate the crowd, which averages 2,500. Every month, a different charity brings the beer truck. Last week, it was HARC, Hillsborough Association of Retarded Citizens.

The village randomly selects six charities a year from a field of about 50 applicants. Getting picked is a coup. In May, the Epilepsy Services Foundation pulled in $9,100. Not bad for three hours.

Organizers say the events draw prospective customers to the village, which has struggled to find its niche among the likes of International Plaza, Channelside and other new retail magnets. If people come for a night of partying, maybe they'll return for an afternoon of shopping.

You would think stores would stay open to take advantage of the thick - and increasingly loose as the night goes on - wallets. But most don't.

A friend oohed at the big sale sign in the window of Anthropologie, only to find the door locked. Closed, 7 p.m.

Village marketing director Heather LeBrecque said she strongly encourages businesses to stay open late. Some do, like Pottery Barn, Tommy Bahama. Most figure it's not worth their while dealing with sometimes-tipsy customers.

Give us some credit. (Credit card companies certainly do.)

Maybe we'll come to Old Hyde Park for more than music night.

- Susan Thurston can be reached at 226-3394 or thurston@sptimes.com

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