Whether it’s shopping for hotels or for local crafts in foreign places, I’m the kind of person who is always on the lookout for the unique and the boutique. Blame it on the fact that here in Toronto, I’ve been spoiled by Queen Street West, a mecca for bohemians and bargain hunters alike, with the kind of eclectic shopping that can be very hard to find in unfamiliar ‘hunting grounds’. So when I discovered Central Avenue in St. Petersburg, Florida, appropriately named the Arts District, I felt like I had found my people. If quirky decor stores, designer resale, and local fashion boutiques are what you like to shop for, read on and discover 7 of St. Pete’s most interesting retail treasures!
Mis En Chic
In sharp contrast to the laid-back Florida style of decor, walking into Mis En Chic is like stepping into a Parisian apartment (albeit a massive one), and that’s exactly what the owner is going for. Soft pastel colours in a muted palette dominate the home decor and furnishings inside and out at this store, where more is definitely more and the style is more baroque than beach.
Each piece in this store’s celebration of excess reflects a refined sense of taste that can add something interesting to any interior. And this style extends to the small clothing section at the front of the store as well, with pieces that have absolutely nothing to do with beachwear or flip-flops and are certain to up your fashion game with that special ‘je ne sais quoi’ that the French do so well.
Paper Street Market
On the other end of the spectrum from Parisian chic is St. Pete’s Paper Street Market, a treasure trove of reclaimed, antique, salvage and new pieces that feels like you’ve just stumbled onto the best industrial garage sale EVER. Here, beauty is in the eye of the beholder, whether that comes in the form of bulldog fridge magnets on a salvaged metal locker, or those oversized industrial letters that are on-trend in everything from farmhouse kitchens to spartan lofts.
I absolutely LOVE stores like this, since you never know what you’re going to find, and every corner has something new – or really old – to discover. And the prices here were really good! (even with the exchange rate on the Canadian dollar).
I had no idea that the vintage/resale market in Florida was as good as it is, until I started talking with a few of the locals, and a few of the regulars who come to this part of the state. So when I saw the sign Designers’ Consigner on this store, I literally couldn’t cross the street fast enough to check it out. If this was my first taste of the resale market in Florida, I couldn’t have been more impressed.
Unlike many stores that sell gently used clothing, or vintage pieces, this store was beautifully curated and displayed (and lacking that noticeable odour of some resale stores!). The staff was friendly, savvy, and knew their merchandise (no small feat since it changes daily) and even patched me into the local resale market via a brochure that lists all the Pinellas County shops in the area. Whether you’re looking for a steal on Gucci or Chanel, or just a well-priced accessory or article of clothing, Designers’ Consigner is a great place to start. Download the 2015 listing of all the shops in the area.
Full-on funky, with a definite edge. That’s the best way to describe Zazood, where even the displays are as eccentric as some of the merchandise. (Where else do you see upside-down canoes on the ceiling, filled with glass lampshades, or African headdresses alongside profane dishtowels.)
Zazood knows what their brand is, because everything here is a conversation piece, but this kind of novelty does come at a price that, like it’s inventory, may not be for everyone. But if you’re into funky, Zazood has it up the wazoo.
White Owl Market
This is what makes Central Ave in St. Pete’s such a great shopping street: store after store that is anything but cookie-cutter. White Owl Market is another one of these poke-around stores, promising that it is ‘never the same place twice’. Which of course, means you’ll have to visit more than once if you want to find the latest antique furniture piece they just found, or the newest pieces of artisan jewellery they’ve added to their ‘Necessaries’ accessories boutique.
If the name ‘Cozette’ makes you think of the play Les Miserables, you’ll need to think again. There’s nothing ‘miserable’ about Cozette’s Boutique, or its owner, a personable ex NewYorker who has a great eye for local and international designs (and who even gave me a great recommendation for lunch in the area.) Cozette sources her boho-style clothing from Asia, Europe and South America, and showcases the merchandise in the equally eclectic Crislip Arcade, a galleria-type building originally constructed in 1926, now restored and home to an art school, studios, art galleries and small businesses.
The Sundial Centre
Although not part of the Central Ave Arts District, no St. Pete’s “shopping list” would be complete without including the Sundial Centre in downtown St. Petersburg, if for no other reason than to mention its excellent upscale swimwear store, Swim’n Sport (where the staff really knows their stuff when it comes to fitting suits). Plus the centre also has other boutiques that offer something beyond the typical mall, such as Florida-based designer Tracy Negoshian, whose colourful prints and affordable designs offer a fun southwest Florida take on style. (The store is a riot of colour and makes you feel happy just walking into it.)
All this sounds like a lot of shopping, and that’s because it is! I didn’t expect that St. Petersburg would offer this much variety and I spent two full afternoons hitting up the stores on Central Avenue alone, just because I didn’t want to miss anything. Normally, boutique shopping can be a challenge in many cities, with great stores few and far between. But fortunately for me, St. Pete’s Central Ave provided plenty of options in one retail strip to satisfy my curiosity and my taste for the unique without having to search far and wide. Who knew?
Special thanks to Visit St. Petersburg/Clearwater who hosted my 3-night stay in the area and introduced me to some of its attractions, including several of these stores.