CLEARWATER — The beach shops along Mandalay Avenue sell T-shirts, bikinis, flip-flops, swim trunks, boogie boards, shot glasses and more T-shirts — the ruder the better.
Nothing wrong with that. For a beach town, that's bread and butter.
But the latest addition to the avenue is going for a different vibe and a more upscale clientele. A new shop called Collections at Sandpearl offers resort clothing like Tommy Bahama and other brands that can't be found elsewhere on Clearwater Beach.
The Sandpearl Resort, which operates the shop, hopes it will help attract other high-end merchants to the mix on Mandalay.
"Our resort guests and local people are looking for some unique, high-quality clothing, but they don't want to drive all the way to International Plaza (in Tampa)," said Stuart Arp, general manager of the Sandpearl.
The big picture is that Clearwater Beach, which traditionally has offered cheap hotel rooms for the mass market, is branching out to attract more monied travelers. The most notable sign of that is the 253-room Sandpearl, which last year became the first major luxury resort to open on the Pinellas beaches in a quarter-century.
Now, Collections at Sandpearl is a first attempt at higher-end retail on the beach.
It's surrounded by shops with names like Freaky Tiki Surf Shack, beachy places that blast pop music over their speakers and post signs saying 50 Percent Off!
The Mandalay Avenue shopping district, which runs for several blocks north of the Clearwater Beach roundabout, also has its share of vacant storefronts with plastic tarps over the windows. It didn't help when the Outback Steakhouse there closed in February.
Inside the Collections at Sandpearl, store manager Shari Harvey shows a visitor the selection of $120 Tommy Bahama shirts and $90 sundresses from a Miami designer. There are locally designed jewelry and purses made with strips of seashell. The buttery-soft $55 golf shirts are made of bamboo fiber. The sleek displays of merchandise whisper of money and leisure.
Harvey, a lifelong Clearwater resident, grew up on the beach and used to work in one of those T-shirt shops. She thinks that the Sandpearl and other resorts like it are needed to make Clearwater Beach a world-class destination.
But this isn't a shop for every income bracket. And in the few weeks it's been open, business has been slow.
Arp, the Sandpearl's general manager, thinks it'll pick up soon with the onset of tourist season.
"The people who have found us love what we have to offer," he said.
Mike Brassfield can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 445-4160.