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Gas Plant antique arcade revamps with retro retail a la 'Mad Men'

ST. PETERSBURG

The sign out front still touts it has "over 100 fine dealers," but the Gas Plant Antique Arcade, one of the first and best known antique malls in the area, has streamlined its retail offerings.

The first floor of the four-story pink building at 1246 Central Ave. still has antiques, but they all belong to one company, Pinkee's Antiques & Collectibles. The second floor now houses Audio Retro Lounge, a vintage audio equipment dealer, and Planet Retro, a vintage toy and record retailer.

Furnish Me Vintage, which could double as the set of Mad Men, occupies 7,000 square feet on the third floor, selling mid-century furniture and accessories. Modern used furniture may soon be sold on the fourth floor.

"We still get some of the old Gas Plant customers. It's 50-50 between people who want to see all their old antiques and others who say 'Oh, this is awesome what you did with this space,' " said Jackie Williams, who owns Furnish Me Vintage with her husband, Todd Wilson. They have become a destination for people from Tampa Bay, Jacksonville, Orlando and beyond looking for the clean lines of Danish and mid-century furniture, including stair-step end tables, bar cabinets, velvet sofas and egg chairs. Though the deflated housing boom has hurt the furniture business, the AMC hit about life in the advertising world of New York City in the 1960s has spurred interest in mid-century finds.

"The majority of our customers are Mad Men fans," Williams said. "I'll get messages on Facebook that say 'I saw this piece you have on Mad Men last night.' "

Luigi Defabrizio, who bought the 86-year-old Gas Plant building in 2010 for $650,000, said he wanted to be a landlord and not the manager of an antique mall overseeing dozens of dealers, so he thought it was time for a change in the building. He decided to lease each floor to one tenant.

"With (the antique mall) you have to track their inventory. You have to have your employees there to run their stuff through," said Defabrizio, who owns several other buildings on Central Avenue. "This way you eliminate all that management and you have people tracking their own inventory and their own space."

But for those shoppers who still love to browse through multiple dealers' ever-changing offerings, Antique Galleries at 450 34th St. N now houses some of the vendors who left Gas Plant. Co-owner Tom Larson, who was at Gas Plant for 15 years, bought the former Sun Bank building shortly after Gas Plant changed hands. His 16,000-square-foot store houses almost 90 dealers selling antique, shabby chic, contemporary and designer furniture along with home decor accessories.

"I don't want everybody with the same thing because then nobody will sell enough for it to be worthwhile for them. We try to make it interesting for the customers," he said. About 40 percent of his sales are to outside dealers who sell in the Carolinas, Miami, Sarasota and elsewhere.

Back at the Gas Plant, Pinkee's Antiques is a new store born of a Craigslist ad. Lisa Ragone and Kitt Fadgen of Palm Harbor were looking for a business to open. They saw a Gas Plant dealer selling a whole floor of inventory and decided to buy it and lease the first floor.

Sales have been up and down since opening May 1, but they are hopeful. Just arranging and staging the inventory and cleaning up the space has boosted sales.

"We went through three vacuum cleaners in one month," Ragone said, laughing. "People walk in here and say, 'Wow. It looks great.' '' The women are adding to the mix by buying estates and taking items on consignment.

The next floor up, Planet Retro sells everything from the original limbless Fisher Price people for $2 each to a Japanese vinyl Godzilla figure for hundreds of dollars.

"I grew up in the '70s watching Creature Feature with Dr. Paul Bearer every Saturday afternoon," said store owner Rob Sexton, who recently set up shop. "People are happy to see something in here besides tea sets and glass."

Defabrizio, who bought the Gas Plant from the Lew family, which had owned it since the 1940s, plans to put contemporary used furniture on the fourth floor. When asked if he ultimately would sell the building for other commercial or residential development along Central Avenue, Defabrizio said that's not his plan now. Ultimately he'd like to bring in lighting, rugs, fabrics, and other home decor and furnishings and make the Gas Plant somewhat of a design center.

Katherine Snow Smith can be reached at (727) 893-8785 or kssmith@tampabay.com.

Gas Plant antique arcade revamps with retro retail a la 'Mad Men' 06/16/12 [Last modified: Monday, June 18, 2012 5:28pm]
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