Best Of 2012

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.

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. 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.

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.

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.

Bring out your inner child or jump for a calorie-burning good time on 12,000 square feet of trampolines. Open Jump is ideal for adults and children, and bittyBOING! ensures safe jumping for the tykes. Fitness buffs can enjoy a day away from their usual routine with BOING!Robics. Socks are required. $12 for first hour; $9 per additional hour. 622-624 Ware Blvd., Tampa, 813-341-4897, boingjumpcenter.com.

A forest of bright white lacquer trees is the backdrop for treasures of all shapes and sizes at Zoey Bloom. Like the ultimate jewelry box, this place sparkles with artful shapes and brilliant colors in rings, bracelets, necklaces and earrings — perfect for making a statement. Forage for fascinators, sizzling hot handbags, a few things for home sweet home, and the prettiest umbrellas. 1710 S. Dale Mabry Hwy, Tampa, 813-251-1706, zoeybloom.net.

For a day of monkeying around, head to this sanctuary housing over 70 apes, small primates, birds and reptiles. Established in 1954 by a juggling and magic trick-performing couple, SPSF’s former primate film stars, lab retirees and pets will make you smile. Banana, anyone? Volunteers, community and businesses contribute to its success. 4600 Alt. U.S. 19, Palm Harbor, 727-943-5897, suncoastprimate.homestead.com.

Best Convergence of Art and Capitalism

At the St. Pete Indie Market, which takes place the first Saturday of the month on the 600 Block, you might find an artsy bauble for $5, vintage clothing — heck, even pickles. The market runs the gamut: upcycled jewelry, lighting, art, live painting, fashion designers, photography, candles, books, records, orchids, art supplies, food trucks and more. What’s more, it’s held along the sidewalks of the 600 Block, where the positive energy, camaraderie and progress are utterly palpable. If you’re in a funk, the monthly bazaar with its funky variety — and a healthy dose of punk rock ingenuity — will be sure to renew your spirit. The next St. Pete Indie market will be on Sat., Oct. 6, noon-6 p.m. along the sidewalks of Sixth Street and Central Avenue in downtown St. Pete. stpeteindiemarket.com. —Julie Garisto