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City Life

Without Ikea and Expo, where can the hip shop?

By SANDRA THOMPSON
Published May 29, 2004

Shopping is my cardio" is the message on a tank top at Imagine That, a little boutique on S Manhattan Avenue, but it may as well be the mantra for shopaholics everywhere. As for right here in Tampa, serious shoppers took a heavy blow this week. The monthslong wait is over. Now we know what will go into the Lord & Taylor space at International Plaza.

Robb & Stucky? Come on!

It's supposed to be a superduper Robb & Stucky, not at all like the usual stores but a really big store that in addition to furniture will sell other home stuff like china and linens and bathroom fixtures by Waterworks.

Okay, Waterworks is very cool. I was at their store in SoHo (New York, not Tampa) a couple of weeks ago. It's in a huge space in a great cast-iron building with fabulous windows and everything in it is white or transparent. Will it look like that here?

Gone are our dreams of a store that's cool, hip, with-it. Tampa has always been behind the curve on furniture and home design. It's hard to find a decent placemat here let alone a couch. International Plaza is particularly bereft, so I wanted to see a store for the home there. Call me crazy, but I wasn't even looking for something exotic. I would have been thrilled with a Crate & Barrel.

So, until Robb & Stucky proves me wrong, we can dream about stores that got away.

ABC Carpet & Home. If you haven't been to the store in the Flatiron District in New York, you probably think it's a place that sells rugs and lamps. If you have been there, you know it's the Louvre, only everything is for sale. Six floors of not furniture and tchotchkes but of environments that happen to have those things in them. It's so fabulous it's fun to just walk through it, and there are three stylish restaurants on the ground floor. The two we walked through at 10 p.m. on a Friday were packed, and the store wasn't even open. Florida has one ABC Carpet & Home - in Delray Beach.

We also went to DUMBO (Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass) to see the new West Elm store, the first one. If you've seen the catalog, and you probably have since West Elm is owned by Williams-Sonoma, you know what the look is: lots of white space, cool - as in not warm - colors, minimalist furniture, linens and such. The store looks exactly like the catalog. It's geared to people, a lot of them young, who want sleek design at a not-steep price.

And in the Meatpacking District there's a Design within Reach - edgy contemporary furniture. There's also a Bodum Cafe and Home Store. You've seen Bodum things around, like their tea kettles at Target. The Swiss company's motto is: Give up bad design for good. The store is huge and has all kinds of housewares, all in great designs, none expensive. I bought a sugar spoon for $4 that looks like it should be in the Museum of Modern Art. There's a Bodum in suburban New York and one in Dallas. Could Tampa be next?

Let's come down to earth. How about an Expo, Home Depot's high-end home design store? It's so high-end that the lowball price given to a New Jersey friend for her kitchen renovation was $50,000, and that meant really cutting corners. I haven't been in an Expo because they're always way out of town; I've passed them on the way to airports. Now Orlando has an Expo. So does Naples. And there are three on the East Coast. No fair!

"You mean you have to go all the way to Long Island to shop at Ikea?" a shocked young woman asked someone in Manhattan. Yes, it's true. There or New Jersey. I've never been to an Ikea, but I can tell you what the furniture is like because my daughter - and every other under-30 who doesn't have a trust fund - bought all her furniture there. The Swedish company has stylish cheap furniture, acres of it. The only catch is, you carry it out knocked down and put it together yourself.

You want to attract 20- and 30-year-olds to Tampa? Better get an Ikea. Right now the closest one is in suburban D.C.

- Sandra Thompson, a writer living in Tampa, can be reached at tampa@sptimes.com City Life appears on Saturday.

[Last modified May 29, 2004, 01:00:33]


Times columns today
Lucy Morgan: A respite unruffled by nightly rumblings
Sandra Thompson: Without Ikea and Expo, where can the hip shop?
John Romano: Permission to speak

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