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A prep for mall trippers

Sore feet and sensory overload may occur at the new International Plaza, but that's a small price for a shopping spree that offers something for every budget.

By MARY JANE PARK

© St. Petersburg Times, published September 13, 2001


Sore feet and sensory overload may occur at the new International Plaza, but that's a small price for a shopping spree that offers something for every budget.

TAMPA -- When it opens Friday, International Plaza will introduce the Tampa Bay area to a number of stores that haven't been seen here before, some more luxurious than others. And it will include shiny new outposts of establishments well known to mall walkers, including the largest Dillard's (and the only triple-level store in this mall) in southwest Florida.

The mall is opening with about 140 stores, kiosks and restaurants; eventually there are expected to be nearly 200.

For some shoppers, half the fun is aimless wandering from store to store, never quite knowing what delight will strike next among the plaza's nearly 200 retailers. To help out the more directed of us, your shopping columnist recently toured branches of many of International Plaza's new-to-Tampa-Bay retailers in South Florida and North Carolina, fondling the merchandise and absorbing the atmosphere.

At Hugo Boss, I admired a cashmere men's jacket that carried a price tag just short of $1,400; at Cole Haan, a black leather duffel that fetches $665; at Nordstrom, a $13,000 gold pearl ring; at Lucky Brand Jeans, $280 black leather dungarees, at Mont Blanc, a wrist watch that costs about $3,700.

To my relief, there also were relatively cheap thrills: A leather-encased retractable tape measure at Coach, $28; a striped toothbrush at J. Crew, $8; a bath mitt at L'Occitane, $6; a rabbit-fur hair scrunchie at Arden B., $8.

In department stores, no one sprayed perfume at me, an apparent concession to those with allergies. Instead, cosmetics representatives held forth scented paper discs and asked shoppers if they'd like to try the fragrances.

For all the talk about how high-falutin' International Plaza is supposed to be, you should feel comfortable to go as you are, preferably with stout walking shoes to traverse miles of marble flooring.

In South Florida's toniest malls, I beheld exquisitely groomed, expensively dressed shoppers and even more people wearing T-shirts, shorts, sneakers and fanny packs. At Tiffany and Co. in Town Center at Boca Raton, an extensively tattooed woman shopped for jewelry alongside customers who preferred the non-permanent variety of body decorations.

Here are my general impressions of International Plaza's anchor stores, a field guide to what you can expect in each.

As for what you might want to take home, that's up to you. But just because you can't get them elsewhere in the area, I'd predict that two of the hottest retail draws will be stuffed toys from Build-A-Bear Workshop and anything in the classic Tiffany blue box with the white satin ribbon.

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