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Trendy shops galore, but who will buy their wares?

sandra thompson
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© St. Petersburg Times,
published August 4, 2001

I was having lunch with a friend, discussing Tampa's nearly new and almost-here retail opportunities: International Plaza, Centro Ybor and Channelside Shops (shop, singular, at present). Admittedly, she is one of a near-extinct breed who, when finding something she likes on sale, will not buy it because she doesn't "need it."

Doesn't need it?

I mean, that sentiment is so un-American. Even my argument that buying things you don't need keeps people in jobs didn't sit right with her. If we all bought only what we need, the national economy would collapse faster than Russia's.

Still, I had to admit I was wondering the same thing when she asked, "Who's going to buy all this stuff?"

International Plaza is bringing in more than a hundred new stores: Neiman Marcus, Nordstrom, Lord & Taylor, Tiffany, for four. Opening date: Sept. 14.

A mile away, West Shore Plaza, which a year ago some of us thought would just roll over and die, has been gearing up to compete head-on. It doesn't even look like the old mall; there is a new entrance off West Shore Boulevard (come think of it, was there ever an old entrance?) with valet parking. It has lots of new stores -- Old Navy is huge -- a hip new food court (Ciccio & Tony's wraps are delicious), 14 movie screens and two just-opened high-end restaurants, Maggiano's and the Palm, though I don't generally order a $30 steak after picking up some socks at Burdines. Plus, it has Saks.

Dillard's finally admitted it is moving to International Plaza, something we've known for ages from the saleswomen there. By the way, they also say the West Shore store will close Sept. 1. Look for bargains.

At the Shops at Channelside, Swim N Sport is still the only store open, but there is room for plenty more. Down the road at Centro Ybor, there is a bunch of new stores with the hip Urban Outfitters to come. Steps away at Seventh Avenue and 15th Street, where the Blue Ribbon Grocery used to be, an architecturally controversial building (it looks like a ship instead of like a cigar factory) promises, along with restaurants, offices and bars, more trendy shops.

Across Channelside Drive, Washington Crossings, the not-yet-built complex of pricey "city sky homes," plans to have cafes, restaurants and yet more trendy shops on its street level.

SoHo Pointe (don't you hate that pretentious "e"?), going up at the corner of Swann and Howard, is to house offices, restaurants, and . . . more trendy shops. Already a block away in Starbucks territory are several new trendy shops: Well Heeled, Well Dressed; the Source; Urban Body.

And less than a mile away, there is the original trendy shop complex, Old Hyde Park Village, with its new upscale lineup: Tommy Bahama, Anthropologia and lots more.

Not to mention, tucked away in odd places in South Tampa, are the established independent trendy shops such as Deborah Kent in a S Dale Mabry strip center across from Plant High.

In Tampa, shop only till you drop, and you're going to miss a lot.

Of course, we're not even talking about real people, who have little, if any, cash left over for the trendy, people who comparison shop for school supplies and laundry detergent.

Among those who do have money, the "let's do some damage" shopping style seems to be giving way to shopping as a blood sport. Just how cheap can I get that George Foreman grill? (I can tell you how little my friends have paid not only for the grill but also for a Pashmina shawl at Saks, a blender at Target, running shoes at Athlete's Foot, a shredder at I don't remember where.)

And there is this thing no one is quite calling a recession going on.

So, viva el capitalismo, bring on the new stores.

But I'm beginning to feel some retail terror.

How can we support them all?

- Sandra Thompson is a writer living in Tampa. She can be reached at City Life appears on Saturday.

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