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tbt*'s Holiday shopping guide: The best local gifts from Tampa Bay's coolest stores

Merry… Christmas? Happy… holidays? We ask, because we're not so sure. It's been a heck of a few years in America, and no exception right here in Tampa Bay. Bad economy, so many people without jobs or money to spend on bills, let alone blow on fun. And recently, Men's Health magazine had the gall to name St. Petersburg the saddest city in the country, followed not far behind by Tampa.


Personally, we're sick of all the sad. This holiday, let's forget practical gifts. Let's dispense with the new iron, the replacement pads for the Swiffer, the reinforced toe dress socks without holes. Let's try to gift things that invoke a smile, be they hilarious and silly, warm and fuzzy, drunk and drunkery, or just plain pretty.

We did our scouting at all local and independent businesses in Tampa Bay, because if there's one thing that makes us smile, it's seeing the little guys do well.

So, happy holidays, everyone. Yeah, we said it!


Zoey Bloom

The gift: The Brag travel bra case, $52

Why? It's ingenious, really — a structured bra case that won't smoosh the best friends in your life (your molded-cup bras) in luggage. It's funny outside, functional inside. If you're really cheeky, it can double as a purse.

What else is there? Crystals, crystals, crystals. "For some reason, crystals just make people happy," said store president James Sontag. It sparkles in here, from the flip-flops to the wine glasses.

Zoey Bloom, 1710 S Dale Mabry Highway, Tampa; (813) 251-1706,

Brad Cooper Gallery

The gift: Pink keshi pearl necklace, $395

Why? It's pretty, that's why. This isn't a piece of discount jewelry to wear once and chuck aside. Your person will hang onto it for life and feel happy every time she dons it.

What else is there? The walls of the gallery are ever-revolving with art that ranges from bright and crisp to dark and challenging. "We carry things that are a little more lasting," said owner Brad Cooper. The jewelry comes from the Elle LeSavette Gallery in Naxos Island, Greece.

Brad Cooper Gallery, 1714 E Seventh Ave., Ybor City; (813) 248-6098,

Why Not Boutique

The gift: Mini flasks, $18

Why? A better question might be, "Why not?" These mini flasks attach easily to purses or key chains and come in fun colors and patterns. They hold about a shot of booze, enough to get a party started without causing a scene. Germophobes might prefer them for hand sanitizer.

What else is there? Jennifer Dutkowsky, the owner of this clothing and accessories boutique, stocks only a few of each item, so there's little chance of seeing the same dress on someone else. She brings out new goodies every Thursday and offers great sales for customers on her email list and Facebook page.

Why Not Boutique, 3423 W Bay to Bay Blvd., Tampa; (813) 374-2394,

KT Janes

The gift: Too Sweet fleece cupcake scarf, $22

Why? Cupcakes are major joy-makers, but they show up on our thighs later. Capture the same sweet spirit via this fleece scarf with a scalloped edge, twisted into an oversized cupcake holder.

What else is there? KT Janes specializes in personalized gifts, monograms and bright, feminine colors. Think umbrellas, cutting boards and bags, plus bottle-cap magnets for nearby schools like Gorrie Elementary and Wilson Middle.

KT Janes, 1718 S. Dale Mabry Highway, (813) 251-5090. Find KT Janes on Facebook.

La France

The gift: Naked Burt Reynolds iPad case, $20

Why? When we walked in and asked what would make someone smile, owner Jill Wax yelled to her staff, "Where is naked Burt Reynolds?" She produced a padded iPad case featuring the tan actor sprawled on a bearskin rug, smoking a cigarette. Naked Burt also is featured on a business-card holder and earrings. A whole set!

What else is there? La France sells an incredible selection of vintage clothes, as well as tons of hilarious knick-knacks. Snag a mustache necklace, a pair of hot-pink ruffled leggings or a tin Geisha trinket box labeled "Random Crap."

LaFrance, 1612 E Seventh Ave., Ybor City; (813) 248-1381. Find La France on Facebook.

Great American Natural Products

The gift: Baggallini Travel Bags, $59.95?$74.95

Why? Let's face it, being uber-organized at the airport can mean the difference between arrrgghh and ahhhhh. Why stress trying to put away your phone, camera, wallet or sunglasses when this Metro bag neatly stores it all? And in fabulous bright colors, too. Add a plane ticket and generate some real bliss.

What else is there? Actually, Great American specializes in tons of pampering products from aromatherapy oils to high-end soaps to exotic herbs for your kitchen. Throw in unique gifts, boutique clothing and specialty jewelry, and you'll almost guarantee a smile when the wrapping comes off.

Great American Natural Products, 4121 16th St. N, St. Petersburg. (727) 521-4372,


The gift: Dog purse, $160

Why? When you walk in the door of Apropos, a snuggly golden retriever shop dog named Madison just may nuzzle you. It's instant warm fuzzies. Give the same feeling to someone you love with this golden retriever purse. Bonus: This dog is in a suit. Natty!

What else is there? The shop has a fantastical, ornate atmosphere. You can buy formal gowns and casual wear while sipping a cocktail and changing in a private salon. Maybe a trip here should be part of the gift.

Apropos, 2102 S Dale Mabry Highway, Tampa; (813) 251-8180,


Keys Country

The gift: "Love" ring, $15

Why? Just when your mortal enemy thinks you're winding up a knuckle sandwich in his face, he'll be stunned. This ring says "Love" in cursive across several fingers. Spread it.

What else is there? Keys Country is a little bit country, a little bit rock and roll. They have authentic leather cowboy boots, sundresses, denim and a bunch of soft T-shirts with peace signs and skulls. Peek behind the counter for the shop's yellow Labrador retriever.

Keys Country, 1910 S Dale Mabry Highway, Tampa; (813) 253-5397,

Love That!

The gift: Faux fur cuff bracelet, $199

Why? Snap on this beauty and you have winter fashion in Florida. It's one of many items at Love That! by designer Rodrigo Otazu, who has made accessories for the Sex and the City 2 cast and Lady Gaga, including a purse she wore with the infamous meat outfit.

What else is there? Owner Angela Llewellyn knew what she was doing when she named her shop. A little browsing and you'll be saying, "love this, love that." The store specializes in high-end costume jewelry, including the area's largest collection of Virgins Saints & Angels. Through Dec. 15, customers can buy a raffle ticket for a chance to win any item in the store under $500. All proceeds will go to the winner's favorite charity.

Love That!, 4109 B S MacDill Ave., Tampa; (813) 902-0500,

Russell's Western Wear

The gift: A cowboy hat

Why? Because it's just the sort of Lone Star State indulgence most city slickers would never buy themselves. Top labels Stetson and Resistol sell for $69 and up at this country and western wear store, which has been in business since 1969 and now has locations in Tampa, Brandon, Lakeland and Ocala. But you can find other brands for as low as $30. Opt for straw if you think the recipient will wear it out in the field; or felt if they're the see-and-be-seen type. Party-hardy Taylor Swift fans might like a softer crushable hat. If you like, add a hat band and stampede string (that thing you tie under your chin so your hat doesn't go flying during Gasparilla).

What else is there? Boots, of course! Justins, Tony Lamas and other top brands are big sellers this time of year. But the store is full of apparel that mixes country and western wear (think Wranglers, Carhartt, camo and button-ups) with just a hint of rock 'n' roll flair (think rhinestone-studded tees and flashy Miss Me jeans). The rise of young, hip artists like Swift and Jason Aldean has made glitzier apparel more popular among "people who are kind of country, but kind of rock," said manager Amanda d'Emery .

Russell's Western Wear has two locations in Hillsborough County: 6027 N Dale Mabry Highway in Tampa, and 3709 State Road 60 E in Dover.

Treasures of Morocco

The gift: Caftan, $26 to $35

Why? There's nothing more comfortable for a lady (or maybe a dude) than a big, flowy, forgiving garment. After your best friend cleans off the cookie tray, bestow on her a beautiful handmade caftan from Morocco. It even comes in Christmas colors!

What else is there? Everything in here comes from the namesake country, from the woven scarves to the leather slippers to the carved wooden gifts from the wood of the Thuya tree found in the Atlas Mountains and no where else on Earth.

Treasures of Morocco, 655 Central Ave., St. Petersburg; (727) 894-2422,

Collegiate Fashionista

The gift: Rhinestone-embellished college pashmina scarf, $28

Why? Aaaahh, the college days. Just the thought of those keg parties makes you happy — if not slightly nauseous. Women can bring back those memories with a scarf from Collegiate Fashionista in WestShore Plaza. The store, which opened in September, has scarfs bedazzled with the logo and/or initials of 20 colleges.

What else is there? Rhinestone-embellished shirts, hats, hoodies and pants let you root for your alma mater without abandoning your fashion sense. Can't find the college you want? The store's website has an even bigger selection.

Collegiate Fashionista, WestShore Plaza near JCPenney, Tampa; (813) 287-1671,

DKM Accessories

The gift: Custom belt buckles, $135

Why? Normally, most of us shun people starring at our waistline. Not so when you're wearing one of these belt buckles adorned with vintage jewelry. A local designer makes them exclusively for DKM Accessories, and no two are alike. They come in a variety of themes, from sports teams to Gasparilla to Christmas. Each is sold with a black or brown leather belt.

What else is there? You can jazz up any outfit with accessories from this Palma Ceia boutique. The shop offers the latest in jewelry, purses and watches at all price points. Particularly popular this year are faux fur scarves and capes and natural cut stone pendants.

DKM Accessories, 3104 W Palmira Ave., Tampa; (813) 902-0044,

Food and drink

El Molino Gourmet Coffee Shop

The gift: Naviera Coffee

Why? If the morning wind hits you just right in Ybor City, the smell of Naviera's coffee beans roasting is irresistible. Since 1921, the family-owned business has been roasting coffee for customers up and down the East Coast, including the Columbia Restaurant down the street. The company specializes in darker roasts favored by Cuban and Italian traditionalists. For the coffee drinker in your life — especially for those who love espresso or cafe con leche, or who love to grind their own beans — this is as authentic as it gets.

What else is there? There's some brewing equipment, apparel and other souvenirs, not to mention tea and cigars (this is Ybor City, after all). But the coffee is the main draw. For a nice sampler, pick up some of the single-serving bags for $1.50 apiece.

El Molino Gourmet Coffee Shop, 2012 E Seventh Ave., Ybor City; (800) 531-9587,

Toffee to Go

The gift: Holiday gift box of toffee

Why? Anyone trying to declutter will be grateful for a gift that lasts only as long as it takes to eat. These festive boxes come in milk chocolate almond, dark chocolate pecan and chocolate macadamia nut. They sell for $10 for a 1?4?pound box, $17 for 1?2?pound, $27 for a pound and $45 for 2 pounds. Colin Cowie, a party planner to the stars, named it a fantastic find for its buttery, delicate crunch.

What else is there? The toffee elves are working 24 hours a day to keep up with demand this holiday season. The shop recently moved to Bay to Bay Boulevard in Palma Ceia and sells nothing but toffee. Towers of three boxes sell for $54 to $99.

Toffee to Go, 3251 W Bay to Bay Blvd., Tampa; (813) 831-6247,

Columbia Restaurant

The gift: Bourbon, tequila and whiskey

Why? Craft beer may be everywhere, but a line of liquor created especially for one of Tampa Bay's most notable restaurants? That's a new one. This fall, the 106-year-old Spanish restaurant unveiled a private spirits label, including Don Casimiro Classic Silver Rum ($18), Chacho Bourbon Whiskey ($36) and Screaming Richard Tequila ($22), the label of which features a photo of owner Richard Gonzmart running with the bulls in Pamplona.

What else is there? Foodwise, there's a ton, from the 1905 Salad Dressing to sangria kits . In the Ybor City store, you can get an array of cigars and cigar paraphernelia. And as always, you can find cookbooks, apparel, gift baskets and colorful tiles, pitchers and serving trays.

The spirits line is available at its shops in Ybor City, 2117 E Seventh Ave.; and Sarasota, 411 St. Armands Circle.

Beer and Winemaker's Pantry

The gift: Home?brewing starter kit, about $120 and up

Why? Manager Mary Traina says business has shot through the roof over the past couple of years, as the craft-beer revolution has swallowed Tampa Bay whole. Why not get your loved one in on the fun by setting them up with the ability to make their own beer? The basic beermaking kit starts at $73.95, plus another $30 or more for the ingredients. Ready-made ingredient kits by Brewer's Best (above) and other brands let you pick from a range of styles and flavors. And even if you can't tell a witbier from a weizenbier, the staff is happy to help.

What else is there? Not into beer? Try wine. Winemaking kits are a little pricier, starting at around $150 for the starter kit and ingredients.

Beer and Winemaker's Pantry, 9200 66th St. N, Pinellas Park; (727) 546-9117,

Hooker Tea Company

The gift: Dr. Feelgood tea, $6 for 2 ounces

Why? How about actually, physically cheering someone up this holiday? It might work if you give them a dose of Dr. Feelgood tea from the Hooker Tea Company. It's made with lemon, apple, cinnamon, ginger and mood-elevating St. John's Wort and ginseng.

What else is there? Get any tea your heart desires, from Orange Spice to Peppermint to Auntie Anise, plus diffusers and teapots. During the holidays, if you buy enough loose tea to fill a canister, you'll get the canister for free. You can add on a clear glass Hooker Tea mug for $8.99.

Hooker Tea Company, 300 Beach Drive NE, St. Petersburg; (727) 894-4832,

Fun stuff

Nicholson House

The gift: Happy Camper mug, $11.95

Why? It's neon yellow. It has a drawing of an old-school camper. Isn't it obvious? The lucky recipient of this mug is sure to annoy all the grumpy people in the office every morning.

What else is there? Most things in Nicholson House will make you smile, from the hilarious greeting cards to the chihuahua salt and pepper shakers to the bottles of Christmas Poo-Pourri essential oil fresheners, slogan: "Because even Santa has to go."

Nicholson House, 1902 A S Dale Mabry Highway, Tampa, (813) 251-0236,

David O'Keefe Pop Culture Icons

The gift: A giclee painting of the Beatles circa 1969, $995

Why? O'Keefe is known for whimsical interpretations of pop- culture icons, and there's something fun about the Fab Four splayed across an amber skyline. Plus, Ringo's nose is comically large. O'Keefe, a former Tampa Tribune artist, left his day job to do this. You might be inspired to do the same.

What else is there? If John, Paul, Ringo and George aren't enough fun, try O'Keefe's massive Seinfeld send-up of Kramer and George, nude and flying alongside cherubs. Or Jack Nicklaus. Or Michael Jackson. Or the cast of Caddyshack. The list goes on.

David O'Keefe's kiosk is inside International Plaza, 2223, N Westshore Blvd., (813)874-1000, and at 438 St. Armand's Circle, Sarasota, (941) 388-4266,

Revolve Clothing Exchange

The gift: 8-track tapes, $3 each

Why? In these complicated modern times, sometimes it's best to harken back to a simpler era. Revolve Clothing Exchange in Ybor City has a good stock of 8-track tapes, including Conway Twitty, Eddy Arnold, Freddy Fender, and the one that says it all — The Good Life by Roy Rogers and Dale Evans.

What else is there? The selection of gently used clothes and accessories is huge and rife with little gems. Need a child's giraffe costume? They have it. Need a pair of glittery silver oxfords? No worries. Need Kids in the Hall on VHS? Say no more.

Revolve Clothing Exchange, 1620 E Seventh Ave. in Ybor City, (813) 242-5970, and 2000 Fourth St. N, St. Petersburg, (727) 399-7788,

Sweet Cheeks Candy and Beauty Bar

The gift: Keep St. Petersburg Local T-shirt, $20

Why? In the spirit of our all-local holiday gift guide, you might want to include this little number with whatever you buy your friends. These shirts really caught on when Gym Class Heroes star Travie McCoy stopped into Sweet Cheeks before his October Jannus Live concert and got one to wear on stage that night.

What else is there? Sweet Cheeks is a fully-stocked, old-fashioned candy shop that also specializes in makeup, below, and photography. Get your sweet tooth and your face fixed at the same time!

Sweet Cheeks Candy and Beauty Bar, 1045 Central Ave., St. Petersburg, (727) 822-2167,


The gift: Beach-themed Christmas ornaments, $14-15

Why? These metal ornaments by Pilgrim Imports are hot sellers in seaside Gulfport. "I can't keep these in," said manager Denise Wachalec. "They go so quickly." The intricate yet whimsical ornaments feature beachy designs like lobsters, beach chairs, alligators, jellyfish and mermads.

What else is there? Bo-Tiki stocks a huge array of jewelry, clothing, purses, home decor and arty souvenirs, much of it Florida- and Gulfport-themed. Check them out during Gulfport's Holiday Hoopla from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday . Look for a number of arts and crafts exhibitors displaying their wares, plus holiday music, food and drinks, and more.

Bo-Tiki, 3015 Beach Blvd. S, Gulfport; (727) 498-8757,


The gift: Vintage Eric Clapton No Reason To Cry promo pack, $30 and up

Why? There's plenty of vintage vinyl at this new Seminole Heights record shop that will make people smile, but we'd be remiss if we didn't recommend this stellar item in the front display case. It's a vintage promo pack sent to record stores that includes an Eric Clapton shot glass (!), a mini bottle of Jim Beam (!!) and Slow Hand's forgettable 1976 album No Reason To Cry ... on cassette (!!!). The Microgroove guys inherited a handful of these from Vinyl Fever owner Lee Wolfson and are selling a few of them in the $30 to $50 range.

What else is there? About 75 percent of the inventory is used vinyl and CDs, so it's a great place to find old-school LPs with classic, frame-worthy covers (hello, Whipped Cream & Other Delights by Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass!). Don't skip the display of merch and music from co-owner Keith Ulrey's New Granada Records, a Tampa label featuring Florida artists such as Sleepy Vikings, SUNBEARS! and The Tenant. The music good, and you'll be helping a Sunshine State musician have a happy holiday, too.

Microgroove, 4906 N Florida Ave., Tampa; (813) 667-7089,

eve-N-odd Gallery

The gift: Handmade bacon and eggs scarf, $30

Why? Who doesn't love breakfast? This cozy number made by gallery owner Jennifer Kosharek, left, has long been a crowd pleaser. One customer, she said, wore it out and about it St. Petersburg, "and everyone he saw wanted to try it on." Yummy.

What else is there? The gallery is nestled in the Crislip Arcade in St. Petersburg's renovated 600 block and features handmade folk art and whimsical wares from Kosharek and other artists including Calan Ree and Lainey Rhodes.

eve-N-odd Gallery, 645 Central Ave. No. 11, St. Petersburg, (727) 251-6458,

Health and beauty

Cleanse Apothecary

The gift: Pine cone reed diffuser set

Why? Get the scent of a real Christmas tree without having to pick up pine needles until March with this ceramic Frasier fir diffuser set from Thymes ($42). The scent also comes in room spray, hand wash, hand lotion and candles. Smell for yourself during Holiday in Seminole Heights, a neighborhood shop-a-thon and fundraiser featuring cocktails, raffles and sweets at several stops in the neighborhood. It's 6 to 9 p.m. Saturday ; see for details.

What else is there? The handmade soaps, scented candles and wooden ornaments make holiday shopping relatively stress free. Holiday soap wedges ($9.50) come in an array of festive themes and scents, from Merry Christmas, which smells of fruitcake, to Christmas Lights, which is apple cinnamon. The Seminole Heights store also carries candles from the Lafco House and Home Collection, one of Oprah Winfrey's favorite things last year. The store has gift baskets for sale and will work with you to create a custom one, with prices starting at $30. And lest the man in your life feel left out, the store sells an array of men's grooming products, too.

Cleanse Apothecary, 5127 N Florida Ave., Tampa; (813) 374-0305;

Cigar City Brewing

The gift: Beer soap, $5 per bar

Why? Admit it: You've always dreamed of bathing in beer. Finally, the beermaking geniuses at Cigar City Brewing are giving you the opportunity. Tampa soapmaker The Dancing Goat used the company's Jai Alai India Pale Ale and Maduro Brown Ale in these goat's-milk soaps, which feel and smell nothing like that time you got doused in Miller Lite at a Trace Adkins concert. Nice foam and a strong finish — what more could a beer lover ask for?

What else is there? Cigar City beer is omnipresent in Tampa, and its public tasting room reflects its growing brand. There's clothing for sale, as well as glasses and other oddities. But if you really want to please your guests, pick up a growler of beer. Multiple varieties are available in 32-ounce and 128-oz. bottles, which are $4 and $7, respectively (the beer, of course, is extra). Try to time your trip around one of the tours. For $5, you get to see how the suds get made, plus a free pint and souvenir glass. Give, and ye shall receive.

Cigar City Tasting Room, 924 W Spruce St. Suite A, Tampa; (813) 348-6363 ext. 206,

Home decor

X Floral Salon

The gift: Kringle candle, $8.99-$25.99

Why? Fans of Yankee Candle will flip over this sophisticated relative, made by the son of Yankee Candle's founder. The apothecary-style jar is sleek and reusable, and the label peels off easily. The hot chocolate flavor smells so much like the real thing, you may be able to forgo the calories. X Floral Salon is the only place in the Tampa Bay area where you can get them.

What else is there? A florist first and foremost, this new shop also carries tart burners, hurricane lamps and other home-decor items that owner Mylez Edward says have been hard to keep in stock. Check out the French pagoda-style umbrellas .

X Floral Salon, 2602 W Azeele St., Tampa; (813) 872-7500,


The gift: Wire gnome, $57

Why? "People love gnomes," said employee Laurie Ruderman. Well said! These little guys are certain to make even the crustiest old codger's nose turn pink with glee. They're made of wire, and red and blue shiny beads. Buy a pair and see if they come to life at night.

What else is there? The store carries imported goodies from places including India, Madagascar and Japan. There are beaded animal lanterns, giraffe statues, miniature Jesus flashlights and paper masks of period characters — think powder wigs, pirates and pilgrims.

Agora, 1515 E Seventh Ave., Ybor City, (813) 247-4141, and 232 Beach Drive, St. Petersburg, (727) 823-7573,

My Favorite Things

The gift: Expect Miracles shadowbox, $25

Why? This would be nice for someone having a hard time with no end in sight. You can't fix their problems, but you can give them a little glimmer of hope to display on their desktop.

What else is there? My Favorite Things smells wonderful, for starters, because of the selection of Swan Creek soy candles in scents like Pumpkin Vanilla, Frosted Spice and Mandarin Sandalwood. The rest is filled with pretty gifts, from handcrafted jewelry to decorative picture frames, plus wine from local wineries.

My Favorite Things, 330 Main St., Dunedin, (727) 738-1277,

Menzer's Antiques

The gift: Fenton glass shoes, $18 each

Why? For the fashion lover with eclectic tastes, these little antique glass shoes are instant happy-makers. They're just like Urban Outiftters fake antiques, except they're real. They line up nicely along a bland cubicle wall.

What else is there? You can't go wrong with any of the antique shops in downtown Tarpon Springs, but Menzer's is clean and organized with multiples of things . Think teacup and saucer sets, pinup girl yoyos, vintage bags and Green Lantern buttons.

Menzer's Antiques, 134 E Tarpon Ave., Tarpon Springs, (727) 938-3156,

Paper Street Market

The gift: Giant letters recycled from business signs

Why? Who doesn't want to have a red-letter day? They also have green, white, black and assorted other colors in small ($29), medium ($39) and large ($49) in stock. Mix and match to make a ransom-note statement like cOol PoOl or bAr Is OPeN.

What else is there? Now in bigger digs, the store specializes in "industrial use" decor. Owners Celesta, left, and Sean Carter work with a network of antiques pickers around the Southeast, but try to infuse the store with as much of their own style as possible. They spend weekends at estate sales and restore much of what's on the floor themselves. In addition to a robust collection of antique furniture like school desks and bar stools, you'll find vintage knobs and pulls ($2 apiece), old wooden Coke boxes ($19 apiece) and jewelry made out of found parts like typewriter keys and old rulers ($22-$36). Whatever you get, deliver it inside a roll of antique wrapping paper ($3) from the '30s, '40s and '50s.

Paper Street Market, 915 Central Ave., St. Petersburg. (727) 894-7777,

KI Designs

The gift: Double-sided wreaths

Why? Who doesn't love a two-fer deal these days? Well, here you have it with these double-sided wooden door wreaths. Enjoy it for one holiday, then flip it over for the next. Owner Kimy Marino keeps a bunch of Christmas/New Year's wreaths in stock ($45) but will make combination you want for $75, including ones with family names and sports teams.

What else is there? Opened in May 2010, this shop aims to make every gift personal. Marino handpaints just about anything on glassware and ornaments. She also carries a lot of pirate booty for the "arrgh" crowd.

KI Designs, 607 S MacDill Ave., Tampa; (813) 443-0751,

Sleeperwoods Furniture and Accessories

The gift: Colorful African baskets, $35

Why? These are instant room brighteners with a backstory. "All the baskets are handmade by the young ladies in Ghana," said owner Ken Meles. "They sell them to support their families." Win-win.

What else is there? Everything in the shop comes from Africa, selected by the Meles family on trips. There are necklaces from Kenya, hollow ostrich eggs from South Africa and woven plates made in the Zulu Kingdom. Happy factor bonus — there's another cute shop dog in this boutique, a local celebrity pug named Rocco.

Sleeperwoods Furniture and Accessories, 10 Sixth St. N, St. Petersburg, (727) 409-2049,

Shapiro's Gallery

The gift: Motivational wooden message box, $38

Why? For the poet laureate in your life, there's Henry David Thoreau's "Go confidently in the direction of your dreams." For rockers, there's Jimi Hendrix's "Knowledge Speaks. Wisdom Listens." For the Big Lebowski fans, there's quite simply, "The Dude Abides." Motivation for everyone.

What else is there? Shapiro's is gift city, with glass candle-holders and vases, clocks, ornate lamps, wall art, pottery and clay work by Susan Shapiro, who has been practicing the art for more than 30 years.

Shapiro's Gallery, 300 Beach Drive NE, St. Petersburg, (727) 894-2111,

Kids and parents

Smarty Pants Kids' Boutique

The gift: A spiky dinosaur backpack from MadPax, $46-$62

Why? Because dinosaurs are awesome, that's why. Who doesn't want to look like an ankylosaurus on the way to school? "They're not just for little kids," said Smarty Pants owner Michelle Nguyen. "We've sold a ton of them to college students."

What else is there? Smarty Pants offers a full array of stylish kids clothes, accessories and toys from brands like Haven Girl, Haute Baby, Giggle Moon, Charlie Rocket, Dogwood and Dinosoles.

Smarty Pants Kids' Boutique, 1548 S Dale Mabry Highway, Tampa; (813) 259-4900,

Mi Bebe

The gift: Trumpette baby skater socks, $26 for a set of 6

Why? These are a hilarious, soft take on checkerboard Vans for your tiniest Tony Hawk. They're in the same vein as the Mary Jane socks for baby girls, only more creative. They come in other funny varieties, including penny loafers for all future investment bankers.

What else is there? Mi Bebe is packed with upscale baby items, including onesies for Gators and Seminoles fans, plush animals, baby shower gifts for expectant moms and bedazzled Christmas bloomers for tots proclaiming "I love Santa."

Mi Bebe, 10113 Montague Street, Tampa; (813) 792-7988,

Silly Dilly's The gift: Felted wool cottage purse, $60-$65

Why? Some things are too warm and fuzzy to pass up. This is one of them. In June, store owner Katie Kyres became the U.S. distributor of these felted purses and accessories from En Gry & Sif, a Danish design company. All the products are made by women in Nepal under fair trade practices. The cottage purses come in different colors, shapes and designs.

What else is there? Kyres likes to call her children's boutique "fairy godmother's favorite shop," and you'd be pressed to argue otherwise. The store, which recently moved to Palma Ceia, sells whimsical toys, clothes and gifts you won't find in Big Box stores. Many are handmade and come from Europe. Just stepping inside puts you in a happy place.

Silly Dilly's, 3217 S MacDill Ave., Tampa; (813) 839-8687,

Thank You Mama

The gift: May Tai baby sling, $84.95

Why? Eco-conscious moms will find lots to be thankful for at Thank You Mama, an organic and earth-friendly boutique and wellness center in St. Petersburg. So will local artisans — the shop sells plenty of coloring books, accessories and clothing items produced in the Tampa Bay area. These colorful May Tai slings were created by fabric artist Andi O'Neill of St. Petersburg.

What else is there? Almost anything a daughter of Mother Earth could want. There are wooden toys, crocheted BlaBla dolls from Peru and organic Egyptian cotton clothing, including plenty in gender-neutral colors. Top eco-friendly brands like Earth Mama Angel Baby, Beaba and silicone Lifefactory bottle sleeves are all over the shelves. And on the wellness side, moms and moms-to-be can get massages, acupuncture treatments and herbal therapy sessions. They also offer gift certificates. Hint, hint, daddio.

Thank You Mama, 1511 Fourth St. N, St. Petersburg; (727) 289-7250,


Health Mutt

The gift: Cycle Dog collars, $23?$27

Why? Answer the call of "love me, love my pet" with one of these collars made in the USA out of old bike tire inner tubes. They don't fray or stink, and the latch works like an airplane seat belt. Best part? Each comes with a bottlecap opener for enjoying a brewski or soda while out on a walk with Fido or a visit to the dog park.

What else is there? This new pet market in Seminole Heights sells healthy dog food and treats, toys and accessories. It also has a portrait studio and dog wash complete with crystal chandelier to create a "spa-like feel," said owner Kendra Bailey. Some unique gift items include squeaky toys that look like steaks and sea shells, and bones made from shredded elk and deer antlers.

Health Mutt, 6116 N Central Ave., Tampa; (813) 231-3137,

Fluffy Puppies

The gift: Dream On handcrafted blanket, $29.99

Why? This soft, fuzzy pink argyle blanket is designed for both "babies and pets." Aww, widdle bitty babies and doggies! This is probably best for someone in your life who treats her tiny dog like it's a child. Or a child who thinks she's a dog.

What else is there? You can get your pooch groomed here and do some shopping while you wait. Deck your dog in miniature Santa hats and scarves, then feed them from the stock of specially-made doggie peanut butter cups and candies.

Fluffy Puppies, 1447 S Fort Harrison Ave., Clearwater, (727) 446-7999; and 10106 Montague Street, Tampa, (813) 920-3777;

Downtown Dogs

The gift: Doggie neckties

Why? If dad can't possibly use another tie, how about one for man's best friend? These doggie neckties come in Santa, snowmen and other holiday patterns ($25). Clothes shopping for a girl dog? The store also has a big selection of too-cute-for-words sweaters and dresses.

What else is there? Downtown Dogs makes spoiling a pooch effortless. The Hyde Park Village boutique has designer beds, purses and squeaky toys, as well as gourmet food and homemade treats that look like real cookies.

Downtown Dogs, 1631 W Snow Circle in Hyde Park Village, Tampa; (813) 250-3647,

tbt*'s Holiday shopping guide: The best local gifts from Tampa Bay's coolest stores 12/08/11 [Last modified: Friday, December 9, 2011 6:20pm]
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