Downtown Tampa

Shop & Stop

click to enlarge Old Tampa Book's inviting storefront. - Wayne Garcia
Wayne Garcia
Old Tampa Book's inviting storefront.

"City sidewalks, busy sidewalks, dressed in holiday style, in the air there's a feeling of Christmas ..." All right, so the lyrics from "Silver Bells" don't exactly apply to downtown Tampa. We may be nearing "Christmastime in the city," as the song goes, but the chances of seeing busy sidewalks anytime other than lunch hour on a Wednesday are pretty much nil. Still, that doesn't mean you should forgo downtown as a shopping destination. In fact, there are more than a few nifty gift ideas tucked in among the 9-to-5 office towers and boarded-up storefronts.

National Wall Art Gallery (401 N. Ashley Drive, 813-258-2244). What do you give the zillionaire who has everything? How about something to dress up that new penthouse? According to Hal Leek, co-owner of Wall Art with wife Mary McDowell, the gallery sells "dimensional sculpture for the wall" to just such high rollers, including a client who needed to adorn a $5 million beach house in St. Pete. If anyone on your list is similarly blessed with waterfront real estate (and you are able to afford Wall Art's four-to-six-figure prices), consider giving Richard Warrington's "Palm Island" ($9,500): exuberant tropical shapes (palm, wave, sun) painted in glowing hues of emerald, red, blue and gold "seven times the thickness of an auto paint job," according to Leek.

Old Tampa Book Company (507 N. Tampa St., 813-209-2151). With a storefront that could fit right into one of those Dickensian street scenes beloved by greeting-card makers, this small treasure of a bookshop wraps itself around you like, well, a good book. And there are plenty of good books on hand, both new and used. For the holidays: The Dysfunctional Family Christmas Songbook ($5), with lyrics like "God damn these stupid Christmas lights! Who wound them up this way?" sung to the tune of "God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen." For the collector: A 1920 edition of Thornton Burgess' Mrs. Peter Rabbit ($200), signed by the author. For fans of everything from the art of fiction to the art of bullfighting: All kinds of titles, reflecting the wonderfully eclectic tastes of owners David and Ellen Brown.

Tampa Museum of Art: Guilders Museum Store (600 N. Ashley Drive, 813-274-8130). No one may be quite sure where or what this museum will be in the future, but right now you can be certain of one thing: The gift shop's pretty cool. There's the inflatable 50-inch-tall version of Charles Munch's The Scream ($32), perfect for ironic dorm-room decor. Or the one-of-a-kind jewelry, like a necklace of translucent marbles ($80) containing quirky clip-art icons (a tin man, an African sculpture, a butterfly). There are Georgia O'Keeffe-themed objects galore in conjunction with the current exhibition, ranging from a gorgeous calla lily print scarf to chipotle dip. And there's an ideal gift for the struggling artist in your life: The "Dear Mr. President" T-shirt ($22), which features a list of artists' demands including "All military personnel must salute us." But the real collector's item — listed on the store's website — is the New Tampa Museum tote bag ($12.95). It's perfect, says the site, for "showing your support for the new museum designed by Rafael Vinoly." A little late for that.

Tampa Theatre (711 N. Franklin St., 813-274-8981). Plan to conclude your downtown shopping spree with tapas at Spain (513 N. Tampa St.) or sushi at Franklin Street Sushi (713 N. Franklin), then a movie at Tampa's shrine to cinema. Because not only do you get to see a good flick, you'll also be able to pick up a great gift: The Tampa Theatre Gift Bag (Director Level, $20) includes 20 Tampa Theatre Dollars, redeemable at the box office or the concession stand, a subscription to the theater newsletter and a postcard. Throw in a "Megaplex Schmegaplex" T-shirt ($14.50) to complete the package.

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