Best Of 2012

"I'm very grateful that I was born to her" —Marina Williams, w. her mother, Becky.
Photo by Todd Bates
"I'm very grateful that I was born to her" —Marina Williams, w. her mother, Becky.

ARTpool has become a "multi-faceted art animal," says co-owner Marina Williams, 27. Its growth is due in no small part to Williams' remarkable partnership with her mother, Becky, 66. From ARTpool's inception as a tiny storefront on First Avenue North to its current incarnation as a combination gallery/event space/vintage boutique/café in a massive space formerly occupied by an auto repair shop on Central, Becky has been on the scene, displaying the same tireless work ethic, smart business sense and quirky sense of style as her daughter.

They were a team way before ARTpool, when Marina helped out by answering the phone (at 5 years old) in her mother's real estate office. After graduating from New College and getting an MFA at the University of East London, she returned to her native St. Pete with visions of starting a grassroots gallery and party space like the ones she'd seen in London, and ARTpool was born in 2008.

As anyone who's ever met Marina can testify, she has a knack for assembling sundry items into a look that is distinctly her own — and her mother's. "My daughter dresses me," says Becky, and Marina in turn calls Becky her "greatest fashion inspiration." Just their eyeware alone tells a story: "I decided if I had to wear it I'm going to have fun with it," says Becky, and her daughter has followed suit.

In fact, it was Becky who inspired Marina to expand her business into vintage wear. "Mom said, 'Bring in one rack of vintage and see what people say,'" says Marina, and now it's a vital part of the business.

The two of them partnered on selecting and purchasing the new building, too. The complex, which has housed (in addition to the auto repair shop) a Fred Astaire dance studio, a church and a Polish restaurant, is more than six times as large as the previous space, and required a great deal of sweat equity to get it into shape. "Pure grease and filth," says Marina. "Oh my golly." But they did it — purchased the property in September, opened it in December of last year — and Marina is full of plans for expansion, including sales of housewares and furnishings and the opening of ARTpool Cafe projected for November. Becky loves the new place, especially its "fantastic" display windows — she claims she's heard cars braking when drivers stop to see what's on display.

Marina, an only child, gets some of her sense of adventure from her father, an anesthetist with a love of the water (hence the name "Marina"). "My husband brought a boat across the Atlantic by himself," says Becky. Marina also gets support from her partner Evan Williams (they just happen to have the same last name). But it's she and her mother who are the heart of ARTpool, and, surprisingly for any business partners — especially for a mother and daughter? — they're a mutual admiration society.

"I'm very grateful that I was born to her," says Marina.

"I'm the lucky one," says her mom.

They have their disagreements — they're yin and yang, they say — but Marina says they always talk things out and never make decisions without talking to each other. "You can never go to bed unhappy."

Goods & Services

Goods & Services

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,

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,

Runners-up: Fusion 1560 Apartments, Post Harbour Island

Best Artistic Repurposing of a School Bus

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.

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.

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.

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,