There's no sign outside that says so, but Hammerhead's Ace Hardware has a double identity.
It's a spacious hardware and garden store, but it's also home to a glamorous gift shop with everything from whimsical wall clocks and baby clothes to high-end handcrafted serveware and crystal oil lamps.
Women often find it by accident when they begrudgingly tag along with their husbands looking for drill bits and electrical tape.
When the store opened in fall 2005, Rick Kinney of Seminole wanted to stop in and look around. His wife went along for the visit and was surprised to find a large gift shop with wood flooring at the front of the store.
"I didn't make it any further that day," Amber Kinney said.
She's been a regular customer ever since, shopping there at least once a month to see what's new.
"I like the selections. There's a nice variety of things you don't find everywhere else," she said.
Karen Baldwin of Belleair Beach stopped by the store when it opened because she was curious, she said. When she saw the gift shop, "it was wow, such a surprise and a delight to the senses."
The shop, Baldwin said, "is like a retail amusement park that you can get lost in while weaving in and out of the different display vignettes." There's a calm feeling there, she said, and "it's so deliciously pleasant."
"No matter what I'm looking for — a gift for my great aunt or my neighbor, and whether I want to spend a lot or a little — I can find it there," Baldwin said.
A gift shop inside the hardware store was the idea of Sue Gessert, who owns and operates the business with her husband, Bill, his mother, Terrie, and the couple's son, Drew, and daughter Audra Mills.
The family also owned hardware stores in Dunedin and Oldsmar before selling them to build the Hammerhead's business complex at 1015 West Bay Drive in Largo.
When the family discussed the design for the new store, Sue Gessert presented a plan for the gift department that would expand on the other stores' popular housewares section.
"She wanted to expand the concept," Bill Gessert said. "She had the gift, the flair and kept up with the trends."
The family supported the idea.
"When we opened, I was so naive that I didn't even order tissue paper," she said. "It truly has been a continuing learning experience."
The variety of inventory has continued to grow and the shop's retail floor space was recently expanded by 1,000 square feet, bringing the total shopping area to 5,000 square feet. Construction cost was between $200,000 and $250,000, Bill Gessert said.
The expansion's inventory features new upscale lines and an expanded baby department. Among the new lines are colorful California Leash Co. bags made of the neoprene used for surfer wet suits and handles resembling the cords used on surfboards. Arthur Court's division of handcrafted, hand-polished aluminum serveware also are featured in the new addition, as well as a line of decorative organizational paper products that include tri-fold mini photo albums, stationery, address books and recipe files.
"I'm constantly amazed at Sue's eye," Baldwin said. "I don't know how she somehow goes to the shows and picks out the neatest, the most clever things, as well as whimsical and classic preppy stuff."
Gessert, who just turned 50, now has an assistant who helps her shop and study trends at the Atlanta buyers' market this month and January. Taylor Swan of Largo, who will be 23 Friday, has worked three years at the shop and is studying marketing at the University of South Florida. She was promoted last year to assistant buyer.
To shop in the gift store is "a wonderful escape," she said. "The atmosphere is soft, it's fun and it's easy, and all's right with the world when you go in there."
Chris Cosdon can be reached at [email protected]