TAMPA — Among interior design addicts, the Stalls in Atlanta is a well-known destination, a place where shoppers can browse accessories and furnishings from many different designers with notably different tastes.
The concept has spread to other markets, and "I've always thought Tampa needed something like that," said interior designer and seasoned retailer Laurie Elliott.
Elliott last week opened MarketPlace Interiors, a retail shop with 16 "stalls" or 8- by 10-foot areas where individual local designers can sell furnishings and other pieces that may otherwise languish in storage. The store opened June 1 at 301 N Willow Ave., in what's known as the Decorative Arts Center of Florida.
The store is the only retail shop in the building; other stores are open only to designers or architects and their clients.
"My challenge is getting the word out" that the store is open to the public, Elliott said.
Elliott is the co-founder of Magnolia in Hyde Park, a furniture and accessories store that she sold 2 1/2 years ago to business partner Jeff Avery.
She felt ready for another venture but admits the move has raised some eyebrows.
"Many of my friends have (said), 'What? You're opening a retail store? In this economy? You're crazy,' " Elliott said. "But I think this type of business model is the perfect business model given the times. A lot of designers are ... looking for new ways to generate business and want to move merchandise but can't afford to open (their own) retail store."
Most designers have a mix of new and antique items in their stalls, Elliott said. Hours at MarketPlace Interiors through the summer are 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Monday and Tuesday and 10 to 5 Wednesday through Friday. In September the store will be open 10 to 5 Monday through Saturday.
Tabletop shop closes
Even a loyal customer base and a commitment to the neighborhood weren't enough to save Sheila Awad's linens and tabletop store Four Elements, which closed May 31.
Awad opened the store two years ago at 2406 S MacDill Ave. and shortly afterward founded Palma Ceia Business and Design District. She hoped to unite the business owners who have shops, offices and restaurants near the corner of MacDill and Bay to Bay Boulevard. Awad said she will continue to serve as the district's president through the summer.
Four Elements saw a drop in sales this year, and Awad said it felt too risky to keep it open.
"In this economic time, people are staying away from the boutiques and shops — just getting the necessities, really," she said. "I think they're a little scared."
Other shops along MacDill have closed or downsized in recent months. Awad closed her store shortly after the district's vice president, Charlie Cox, announced he and partner Alan Feivelson soon would be closing their furniture and accessories store Cox-Feivelson after more than a decade in business.
Morale, Awad said, has declined among the shop owners in the district, because no one knows if business will get better soon.
"(Customers) would come in and say, 'We want you here, we love your shop,'" Awad said. "Those people made my day. ... But there weren't enough of them in the neighborhood.
"If you like the eclectic boutiques, you've got to patronize those people. You don't have to spend a lot."
Cupcake store moving
The Cupcake Spot has found a new spot, one that's familiar to South Tampa dessert lovers.
The store moved this week from its tiny store on Dale Mabry across from Plant High School to 3225 S MacDill Ave., in the 1,200-square-foot space formerly occupied by Mike's Pies. It is part of a retail plaza that offers easier access and plenty of parking.
"(The new store) is part of a community of stores," owner Nicole Rogers Longo said. "It will just be more convenient for people."
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