VIRGINIA PARK — After 14 years as a sales manager at Estella's gift shop, Monica Ficarrotta bought the business in June, renamed it the Gifted Fig and restocked it with new merchandise.
Engagement and wedding gifts, kitchen and entertaining items, including beach and pirate themes, bath and body products, and baby accessories now fill the store. Ficarrotta has dropped the Vera Bradley line but added Kenneth Lane jewelry and Skagen watches, men's gift selections and Gasparilla wreaths she makes herself.
"In 1997, I bought something at Estella's and they admired my calligraphy when I wrote out my check,'' she said. That eventually led her to switch careers. "I always wanted to have my own card and gift shop since I was in junior high."
Previously, Ficarrotta spent 26 years working for CDB's restaurants, waiting tables during college and then joining management, opening five Tampa Bay locations.
Ficarrotta's creative skills were evidenced in 2008 when she came in fourth in the Scotch brand's 11th annual Most Gifted Wrapper Contest, winning $500 for wrapping ice skates in a Santa hat she concocted. Busy shoppers will see those talents as Ficarrotta assembles grab-and-go gifts, she said, such as a colander loaded with recipe cards, cookbook and pot holders. Gift wrapping is available for a fee, complimentary for in-store purchases.
The store, which borrows its name from the nickname of her husband, Hillsborough County circuit Judge Ron "Fig" Ficarrotta, opens Saturday.
The Gifted Fig, at 4234 W Bay to Bay Blvd., will be open from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday; 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Thursday; and 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday. Call (813) 835-3447.
Tea, coffee and other brews are SoHo good
Something new is brewing on the northwest corner of Howard Avenue and Platt Street.
On June 20, Tampa native Eric Starr revamped the SoHo spot, turning the Hooker Tea Co. into Infusions Lounge.
"Same owners, but less retail, more restaurant," Starr said. "We're a cafe now, everything made in house." Menu items include "Almost-a-Cuban" sandwich, Crisps (pizza on tortilla shells) and an array of quiches.
Now, besides offering 90-some kinds of tea, Starr is serving Buddy Brew Coffee, hot or cold.
For the curious, he combines both stimulants.
"We infuse South American mate tea and fresh ground coffee in a silk bag,'' he explained. The mixture "brews" in cold water for 10 hours. A favorite is the caramel mate, using syrup he makes from flavored teas.
"Try the chai on the waffles," he says.
Starr, 37, is well aware that the location has not been kind to previous proprietors.
"I know, Bric lasted about a minute,'' he says, undaunted.
By day, Infusions will be a quiet place to read and relax, with free WiFi. Later, Starr pours Cigar City Brewing craft beers and wine. The "tea-gria" will also flow.
"It's made from red wine and a berry-based tea to taste like red sangria. The white sangria is made from a flavored green tea."
Infusions Lounge, at 223 S Howard Ave., is open from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Wednesday; 10 a.m. to 1 a.m. Thursday through Saturday; and 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Sunday. Visit infusionslounge.com or call (813) 443-5797.
Take 90-minute Ybor tour on a Segway
Four Segway Experience tour centers recently opened in Florida, including one in Ybor City on Thursday. The Segway Corp. of Bedford, N.H., operates the local center and the others in Sanford, Jensen Beach and South Beach/Miami.
This Segway Experience specializes in tours of Tampa's Latin Quarter, beginning at Muvico in Centro Ybor, where riders buy tickets, don helmets and hop on a Segway.
Manager Cheri Irwin says she hired "only history buffs" as tour guides to ride alongside sightseers, leading groups past civic and architectural highlights of the historic landmark district.
"Ybor is pretty spread out,'' says Irwin, whose claim to fame is posing as the Coppertone baby for her artist mother in 1959.
"Touring on a Segway enables you to encompass the entire area, from Don Vicente to the Columbia restaurant. Walking tours don't often get all the way down there," she says.
Before they glide off, guests spend 30 minutes on safety skills and drills, Irwin says. Riders must be at least 14.
"When everybody is comfortable, we head out for a 90-minute factual tour. When we get to Centennial Park, we give the riders a chance to open up and enjoy the glide."
Segway Experience at Ybor City, 1600 E Eighth Ave., is open Tuesday through Sunday. Tours start every two hours from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. A two-for-one grand opening special of $65 is available for a limited time. Visit yborsegwaytours.com or call (813) 455-7854.
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