Once home to whores and crackheads, Grand Central, situated about halfway between downtown St. Pete and the 34th Street corridor, has morphed into a funky shopping district with an emphasis on antiques and unique gifts. Panhandlers will still hit you up for a few coins (for "food"), but by and large you'll enjoy a pleasant stroll in a relaxed urban setting.
RoCo Traders (2115 Central Ave., 727-895-8922). With women's handbags easily running two grand or more, RoCo's handmade leather numbers are a real steal at $120-$170. Mexican designer Alexis David combines unique colors, shapes and craftsmanship. RoCo's tastefully appointed space — brimming with interesting stuff but not crammed full — also features hand-blown glass, hand-cast pewter serving trays made from recycled aluminum, and a couple of heavy, mesquite-and-leather bar chairs that are more like thrones — at just $240 a pop. Oh, and don't forget the collection of hip-looking $10 women's watches.
Asian Willow Antiques (2244 Central Ave., 727-321-1100). This comfy store offers an exotic taste of the Orient, be it vintage Chairman Mao clocks, Buddhist prayer wheels from Tibet or antique eyeglass cases made from bellies of sharks (also includes old foldable eyeglasses). On the more affordable tip, Asian Willow stocks a nice collection of inexpensive candles and freshwater pearl earrings for $20.
Somethin' Different (2420 Central Ave., 727-322-0070). Shopping can raise a thirst, for sure, so stop in this bar for a cold one.
Antique Exchange (2541 Central Ave, 727-321-6621)/Janet's Antiques (2545 Central Ave., 727-823-5700). These next-door shops make nice bookends. Janet's covers the higher end, with nice furniture, mirrors and plenty of shiny old stuff. Antique Exchange skews not-so-high end; its cluttered space is full of funky doo-dads and curios, lamps, cuff links, old watches and the like. AE has a nice, convivial vibe. Stop in for a few laughs.
Doc's Place (2646 Central Ave. 727-328-2646). Doc moved into his space nine years ago, before the Grand Central revitalization. His shop excels in china and glassware, with row after row of delicate teacups, plates, candle-holders and such.