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Boutiques in the 'burbs

New Tampa was once a bedroom community. Then big-box retailers moved in. Now smaller stores are popping up in their shadow.

By EMILY NIPPS
Published May 26, 2006


  photo
[Times photo: Mike Pease]
Lori Derrico, left, co-owner of la Pink, a clothing boutique at the Walks at Highwood shopping center, wraps an item for New Tampa customer Jolie Frankfurth.

NEW TAMPA -- There was a time when New Tampa shoppers had nothing. A restaurant here, a nail salon there, but for the most part, New Tampa was little more than lots and lots of bedrooms.

But as thousands more new homes popped up throughout the 1990s and early 2000s, more and more people began moving to the area. And as that happened, businesses like McDonald's, Wal-Mart, Lowe's, Starbucks and Publix took notice.

The initial big-box boom was lethal to New Tampa's first mom-and-pop stores. For a while, it appeared New Tampa would become a nondescript Anysuburb, overrun by corporate retail and restaurant megachains.

But, with population continuing to grow, there may be room in New Tampa for everyone. In the past couple of years, some brave small-business owners have tested the market with highly specialized shops that sell everything from ethnic groceries to bicycles to tea. And they're very optimistic about what they've experienced so far.

"We've only been open for two days, and so many women have come in and said, 'Oh my gosh, you're going to do so well,'" said Amy Crumpton, owner of la Pink, a ladies' boutique that opened in Walks at Highwood shopping center on May 9. "People like to get things not everyone is going to have."

At la Pink, a shopper can browse through a small but eclectic selection of rhinestone-encrusted thong sandals, funky jewelry or Vera Bradley handbags.

Or at Soleil Chocolates, located alongside Krispy Kreme at Preserve Walk Lane, one can buy chocolate-covered potato chips, intricately designed truffles and chocolate sculptures molded into the shape of just about anything the customer wants.

Soleil owners and siblings Duane, Gerard and Jeanine Lipinski saw opportunity in an area where people seemed affluent enough to appreciate finer things, but didn't have many options. Opening a chocolate shop was a dream for Duane, a former graphics artist, and Jeanine, a former pastry chef. They thought they'd give it a shot in New Tampa.

"We've been way busier than we anticipated in the first few weeks we've been open," Duane Lipinski said. "People out here are thrilled to have us. We've heard a lot of people say they needed a place like this."

While specialty shops and boutiques are commonplace in south Tampa shopping hubs such as Hyde Park and SoHo, they're a little tougher to find in the north Tampa suburbs. But Crumpton, a Hunter's Green PTA mom who has for years dreamed of opening a frou-frou boutique with her friend, Lori Derrico, thought her neighborhood seemed perfect.

And she credits the corporate chains for drawing New Tampa shoppers out of their homes and into the shopping plazas. "People are coming to Circuit City and Panera, and those stores bring people into our parking lot," Crumpton said. "That helps us with advertising."

Randy Myhre, manager of the 8-year-old Oliver's Cycle Sports, believes that the smaller niche shops cater to an entirely different clientele than some of the bigger superstores do.

Sure, people can buy bikes at Wal-Mart and Target. But, as Myhre puts it, "They sell toys. We sell bikes."

Myhre, who is the part of the third set of owners to take over Oliver's, remembers New Tampa when there was practically nothing else but Tampa Palms and Pebble Creek homes. He remembers being astounded at the boom of popular chain stores along Bruce B. Downs Boulevard years later, and he wonders about the future of some of the New Tampa businesses, both big and small.

"There's a lot of potential in this mar- ket," Myhre said. "I just hope people realize that bigger is not always better."

Emily Nipps can be reached at (813) 269-5313 or nipps@sptimes.com.

Coming Sunday: The second installment of this two-part series about the evolving New Tampa business scene. Young families there have created a boomtown for pediatricians and pediatric dentists.

[Last modified May 25, 2006, 11:38:11]


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