Review: Shops at Wiregrass worth the drive from Tampa

Two words: New mall.

With the economy in the toilet and holiday spending just around the corner, another shopping temptation may seem like the last thing you need. But for Wesley Chapel residents, the Shops at Wiregrass is a retail oasis in the developing suburb.

Located at the corner of State Road 56 and Bruce B. Downs Boulevard in Pasco County, Wiregrass is more of an outdoor shopping and dining village than a traditional mall. Picture Prime Outlets Ellenton.

Anchored by Macy's, Dillard's, JCPenney, and a two-story Barnes and Noble, Wiregrass' 100 restaurants and shops are situated on palm-lined brick walkways. Rather than a foodcourt, its hub resembles a town square: a cluster of fountains, benches and rocking chairs. Although the mall has been open less than two weeks, this area is already a gathering place for young families, whose children play in the Wild West-themed playland, and men, who chill in the wooden rocking chairs, guarding their wives' purchases. It's a contrived community, but a welcome one.

So Wiregrass is an easy sell for Wesley Chapel residents, whose next-nearest shopping mecca is University Mall. But folks in Hillsborough and Pinellas should consider making the drive, too. With stores clustered by niche, navigating the mall is a breeze. For instance, Pottery Barn, Williams-Sonoma, White House Black Market and Bare Essentuals are conveniently grouped, making retail therapy a cinch for the Desperate Housewives demographic. And Build-A-Bear is right next to Gymboree, natch.

Then there are stores, and features within stores, that you won't find at every mall. I'd never heard of Brown Shoe Closet, which has only about a dozen stores nationwide, including at Ellenton. But the boutique-style women's shoe store, with its dark wood floors and velvety couches, had me at "dot sale." I headed straight to the back and scored a pair of $89 Carlos Santana silver heels for $20. Despite Wiregrass' infancy, expect markdowns in nearly every store.

Budget fashionistas will also flip for Wiregrass' Forever 21. With two stories, including a room on the second level devoted to guy's clothes, it almost feels like H&M. Almost.

A few stores at Wiregrass are sub-par, including a smallish Body Shop and a Rack Room Shoes whose decor seems lackluster compared with the other, more sparkly stores.

The big culinary draw is Cosi (pronounced "Cozy," as in, how the flaming hearth and warm flatbread will make you feel). For years, Northerners have been flocking to this chain, which specializes in flatbread pizzas, sandwiches, coffee beverages and pastries. Sound familiar? We're sure Cosi will give Panera a run for its money as the new It place for young moms. And, one-upping Panera, Cosi lets you order at the counter and has servers to bring your food.

Also bustling is 365 Caffe Italiano, a cafeteria-style eatery where smooth gelato and owner's charming Sicilian accent make up for inattentive counter service.

Not hungry? Stop by the Brass Tap, a cozy bar with more than 200 beers, all imports.

After a day of browsing, get your gas money's worth by staying in Wesley Chapel for the evening. From the Shops at Wiregrass, head 11/2 miles west to relax at the new Cobb Theatres Cinebistro (cobbcinebistro.com), which opened in September. Your $12.50 ticket includes a leather rocker seat in the 21-and-older balcony, where waiters serve alcohol and dinner just before showtime. And we're not talkin' Junior Mints. The menu includes fried calamari, skirt steak, tomato bisque and much more.

Pasco County, we envy you.

The Shops at Wiregrass

28211 Paseo Drive, Wesley Chapel, (813) 994-2242; theshopsatwire

grass.com

Review: Shops at Wiregrass worth the drive from Tampa 11/06/08 [Last modified: Friday, November 7, 2008 11:46am]

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