Explosions of elegant excess with a seasonal theme make the big display window of The Gift Box a highlight of the lively retail block that runs from 4th Avenue to Beach Drive NE in downtown St. Pete, just around the corner from The Chihuly Collection. A willow-branch chandelier is the usual centerpiece, but depending on what it’s been festooned with it can be unrecognizable from one season to the next. Display artist Scott Velez is also an interior designer, and his training shows. His window has become a kind of gift box in itself, bringing back repeat customers just “to see what we’ve done.” Right now they’ll see a window in an autumnal mood (a refreshing change from the red-white-and-blue-for-the-RNC theme that stayed up just a little too long), but we can’t wait to see what Scott comes up with next. 400 Beach Drive NE, St. Petersburg, 727-209-8300, thegiftboxstpete.com.
Whether it’s your compressor or condenser that’s spent, you won’t spend your entire paycheck here — ICA beats competitors’ estimates by 20-50 percent. They also offer routine maintenance, in addition to air-conditioning repairs. There’s nothing chilly about the service you’ll receive — customer satisfaction is priority to owner Kevin O’Donnell. ICA also contributes to the community through Toys for Tots and other programs. 5890 Park Blvd., Pinellas Park, 727-545-1107, icecoldair.com.
Billiard balls, bird cages, modern industrial furniture, gym lockers, old projectors and telephones: St. Petersburg's Paper Street Market boasts an inventory you can get lost in — whether you're browsing through an old violin case to find your favorite religious or Florida-themed postcards, or digging through the huge collection of large commercial lettering to find just the right capital "A" for the baby's room. 915 Central Ave., St. Petersburg, 727-894-7777, paperstreetantiques.com.
Runners-up: Fusion 1560 Apartments, Post Harbour Island
Shelving her dream of owning a retail bookstore, Mitzi Gordon created something even better — the Bluebird Books Bus, a formerly-yellow short bus painted blueberry blue (Pantone 301, to be exact) and stocked with new and used books, artists’ publications and books about art. A frequent sight at cultural events on both sides of the Bay, the Bus has become a mobile icon and champion for visual and literary arts. thebluebirdbus.com.
Watch: Mitzi Gordon, Elizabeth Williams and David Durney — Bluebird Books Bus founder, project librarian and "the guy in the back of the bus," respectively — talk about going mobile, suffering book-related injuries and hanging with The Moth in Georgia. CL's David Warner interviewed them during the Best of the Bay awards reception on Sept. 19 at Creative Loafing.
Photographers Matt Larson and Rebecca Sexton Larson converted their silver bullet — a gently used, custom-decorated Airstream trailer — into what may be the sexiest miniature photo gallery ever imagined: Boxfotos Airstream. Bonus: Their photography, packaged in specially-designed boxes and displayed inside the trailer, is awesome. Boxfotos will present an iPhoneography & Photo Safari workshop for Hillsborough County art teachers at the Ruskin Firehouse Cultural Center. Call the Tampa Museum of Art’s Education Dept at 813-421-8397 for information. boxfotos.com.
Watch: Matt & Rebecca Sexton Larson talk about Boxfotos Airstream, their sexy little gallery on wheels, in an interview with CL's David Warner during the Best of the Bay awards reception on Sept. 19 at Creative Loafing.
Runners-up: Marpena's Auto Repair, Bob Lee's Auto Repair
It’s not easy to become a competitive lender alternative to the private banks. Grow’s beating the odds with special volunteering initiatives in our community; plus, their loan rates are outstanding. Their fresh and catchy green ads give you the illusion that you could possibly “achieve your dreams” one day, whatever that means. growfinancial.org.
Runners-up: Fade Masters, Gandy Barber Shop
These big cats are not your typical fat cats — they include lions, tigers and lynx. Celebrating its 20th anniversary, this sanctuary houses over 100 abandoned, abused, orphaned and retired big cats and saves them from extinction. A variety of guided tours are available, including day, night, kids, wedding and private. Hop on the golf cart if the idea of the 90-minute walking tour makes you cringe. 12802 Easy St., Tampa, 813-920-4130, bigcatrescue.org.