Friday, February 16, 2018
Business

Howard Avenue antiques dealer moving to California

Barbara Baker wasn't deterred by the less-than-ideal reputation of N Howard Avenue.

Instead, she embraced West Tampa's rich history and made it her place of business for nearly 25 years.

She started her worldwide promotions agency in an old cigar factory and opened an antiques shop in a former brothel.

"I consider myself a preservationist, between the buildings and the antique store," she said.

But despite her love for the area, she's moving the shop, Baker General Store and Co., online. She'll take the event space and tea room from 2502 N Howard Ave. to California. The move will likely be completed by the end of this year, she said.

"I'm just transitioning the store concept to the economy," said Baker, 54. "It's not that I want to close, I'm just taking it online."

The event space has already moved to a 1932 English estate with a vineyard overlooking the ocean in Carmel, Calif., where she started her career. Baker said she will still own and lease both properties on Howard Avenue, and the promotions agency will still be headquartered right where it is. She plans to travel back and forth.

Baker said she will still honor the events that have already been booked and will still have items on display at regional antique shows. She might stay long enough to decorate the store for one more Halloween and Christmas.

"We've had a lot of great moments here," she said.

Her promotions agency, Advanced Promotional Concepts, has been based at 2802 N Howard Ave. since 1988 and has helped launch international campaigns for companies like Captain Morgan and Biore. The antique store, which opened in 2006 about three blocks south of the agency, has been listed in AAA's annual travel guide for the past three years as one of Tampa's must-see tourist destinations.

With its eclectic merchandise and unique reception space, Baker has heard people call her shop a "hidden treasure" in Tampa.

"In reality that's not a category I would have liked to have won," Baker said. "I've tried to combat that for years, getting people to this neck of the woods, because unfortunately it has a little bit of a stigma. In all honesty, it's not a very bad neighborhood like people think."

Originally started as a hobby, the 10,000-square-foot general store is like a larger version of a Cracker Barrel store, one that also sells antiques. It has a rooftop garden, a back yard with a small stage and a bar, and a reception room for showers, reunions and weddings.

Baker spent about $1.25 million renovating the space and designing it just like the general store she shopped at as a child in Kinsman, Ohio, on the rural Pennsylvania-Ohio border.

"That's what we had growing up, and that was it," she said. "My grandparents took me to the general store all the time. I thought it was neat the way the community came together."

Part of the building was an original boarding house for the Cuesta Rey Cigar Company in the early 1900s, Baker said. Another portion was formerly the Golden Nugget Bar, notorious for the services provided by its female employees.

"We're truly one of the most unique spaces you could ever have," she said.

Since its opening on Halloween in 2006, Baker said she has hosted more than 300 events at the store, including three weddings. Anyone who celebrates their 100th birthday there gets a free teddy bear.

The store's best seller? The "Tired Old Ass Soak" for feet and joints.

But the store has become too time-consuming for Baker.

"When I started the store I thought this would be more of my side job, but this became all encompassing really," Baker said. "It's taken over my life."

Baker said she would prefer to redirect the majority of her time into her promotions agency.

A lot of people come into the store just to look rather than buy, and that business model is one she can't keep up with.

"It's really just turned into free entertainment, and that's why I have to make the change," Baker said.

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