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American Apparel, Container Store, H&M, Lululemon and Trader Joe's top Tampa Bay wish list

With Ikea and a Crate & Barrel about set up shop here, it's time Tampa Bay shoppers turn the page on their retail wish lists. • Ikea starts letting shoppers camp out at its new Tampa store at 9 a.m. May 4 to line up for May 6 grand opening day prizes. Crate & Barrel follows May 21 with a more subdued opening day fete at International Plaza. • Even a nagging recession has failed to stop some hot retailers from continuing to stretch their wings. So it's time to update your top choices to lobby bay area developers and malls to sign over the next couple of years. Here are my nominees. What are yours?





Lululemon In a decade this Vancouver, British Columbia, startup ­— which started in a shared space with a yoga studio — grew to 108 stores specializing in its own brands of yoga-inspired athletic wear. Loyalists are drawn to innovations such as organic, natural stretch fabrics made from soy, bamboo and seaweed. Each store has a community coordinator who stages fitness and charitable events. Sales have grown to $353 million from $40 million since 2004. Growth slowed in recession to six new stores in 2009. The nearest location is Naples; www.lululemon.com.

H&M The first of the European fast-fashion chains to try out America, but a latecomer to Florida, Swedish apparel chain Hennis & Mauritz opens a two-story store this fall at Florida Mall in Orlando. Unlike rivals Zara and Forever 21, H&M augments its 100-person design team with one-time collections from top-tier designers such as Karl Lagerfeld, Stella McCartney and Roberto Cavalli in less-inexpensive fabric. This spring it's Matthew Williamson, the so-called prince of boho-chic. New styles arrive daily, so the selection changes fast. Made for men, women and kids, the trendy goods are priced and made to wear out as fast as they go out of style. That's why it's called disposable fashion. You can buy from 1,700 stores in 33 countries, but not online in the United States.

Trader Joe's Sort of a budget Whole Foods, this bare-bones, Los Angeles-born supermarket offers a changing array of organic, eclectic and budget gourmet foods served up in an environmentally aware setting. No artificial colors, preservatives, trans fats or MSG in its store brands. Signature $1.99 Charles Shaw wines are known as Two Buck Chuck to regulars. A cultlike following at the smallish 319 stores in 24 states drops a stunning average of $23 million a year per store. The grocer surged ahead of Publix into second place nationally in Consumer Reports' annual ratings. Owned by the German Albrecht family that owns Aldi, Trader Joe's has spread to Atlanta in the Southeast and is scouting South Florida, but the bay area is not on the radar screen. No online sales.

The Container Store Headquarters for all things organizing, this privately held Dallas chain of 46 stores is a perennial on best-places-to-work lists. It was founded with $35,000 in 1978 by an architect and two partners who sold to homeowners products that were previously sold only for commercial or industrial use. Many were inventive, such as egg baskets sold as carryalls or masons' tool bags sold for overnight travel. Employee training of 241 hours — the retail industry average is seven — is one reason for no layoffs ever. The closest store is in Miami, or at www.containerstore.com.

American Apparel, the biggest apparel brand still actually made in the United States, has 260 stores in 19 countries, 12 in Florida. Owner Dov Charney, an eccentric known to strip to his underwear at the office and facing multiple sexual harassment suits from his Los Angeles workers, runs provocative ads with average-looking people in skimpy outfits. The clothes are men's and women's basics: hoodies, T-shirts, leggings and shorts unadorned by logos. It's adding 30 percent a year to its store base, including three stores in China. Buy online at store.americanapparel.net.

P.S. The fact is that the Tampa Bay area grew out of the "We're not worthy" stage of high-end retailing years ago. Now we're big enough and affluent enough to attract other promising young chains such as Lucy Activewear, a chain of 63 yoga-attire stores owned by apparel giant VF Inc.; Sur La Table, a chain of 74 upscale cookware and cooking class stores from Seattle; West Elm, a Williams-Sonoma-created home decor store similar to its Pottery Barn; Bass Pro Shops, a hunting, boating and fishing outdoors megastore; and Edward Beiner, a luxury sunglasses shop from Coral Gables with national aspirations. Now it's a matter of time, the right real estate deal and some shopper lobbying to land them.

Mark Albright can be reached at albright@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8252.

American Apparel, Container Store, H&M, Lululemon and Trader Joe's top Tampa Bay wish list 04/25/09 [Last modified: Saturday, April 25, 2009 1:21pm]
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