The website TripAdvisor.com suggests several things to do in Pinellas Park. The short list includes trail riding, laser tag, the Wagon Wheel Flea Market and the Waterin' Trough Dance & Saloon.
Last year a vodka ad plastered across a Tampa billboard poked fun at the city, saying its vodka had "Hyde Park quality, Pinellas Park pricing."
So it's not exactly the place you'd expect to find a women's boutique selling $180 Hudson jeans and $350 Swarovski necklaces.
But there it is, across from Thrifty City, nestled in a 53-year-old strip mall at the corner of 49th Street and Park Boulevard. Paris Isabella is a fashion-conscious shopper's diamond in the rough.
Owner Mara Marozzelli has steadily built a following of women who drive from Tampa, St. Petersburg, the beaches and beyond since opening her shop at 4930 Park Blvd. five years ago.
Her risky choice of real estate paid off and has allowed her business to be more profitable than if she had gone into the first site she considered on Bay to Bay Boulevard in tony South Tampa.
"Over there I'd be paying at least four to six times as much as what I pay here," she said, declining to detail her actual rent.
"The rent I pay more than makes up for (the cost of) advertising my location. Plus I'd have to advertise no matter where I am," she added.
Marozzelli points out that there are more than 30 independent women's boutiques in South Tampa, but she's about the only one in mid Pinellas County.
"It's so central. I get people from the beaches, from Tierra Verde and Pass-a-Grille, St. Petersburg and Tampa. Bayou Club is 2 1/2 miles away," she said.
Though it's on Park Boulevard, one of the most traveled roads in the county, Paris Isabella gets very few customers who just happen upon the store.
"It's a lot of word of mouth. They see someone wearing something and ask where they got it," Marozzelli explained. "In the beginning people were so surprised to hear it was from Pinellas Park I think they were coming out of curiosity."
Every corner, rack, shelf and basket in her 600-square-foot store is packed with clothes, many in bright colors, some with unusual cuts that range in price from $32 for a T-shirt to $400 for certain dresses. Designer jewelry runs from $50 to $500. But Marozzelli usually has a sale rack, discount basket and costume jewelry for $15 or so. "I like to keep everybody in the game," she said with a nod to the variety of prices.
Cindy Schuhmann didn't know what to expect when she was invited to the store's opening in 2007. Now she's hooked on the wide selection of denim, bright colors and patterns. Since she works as a nurse and has standard apparel, she likes something fun for going out.
"I always gets compliments on the stuff I get there," Schuhmann said. And yes, people ask her twice when she says the piece came from Pinellas Park.
"Pinellas Park isn't exactly the mecca of fashion," she said with a laugh. "But Paris Isabella is about the only place I shop, even though it's kind of far to drive. But it would only be considered far in the world of South Tampa where people don't want to drive anywhere."
The hip boutique isn't the only surprising store in the strip mall. Pura Vida Wellness Spa teaches yoga and offers hot stone massages. A barber a few doors down cuts the hair of professional athletes who attract attention when they park their Bentley or bright yellow Range Rover in the small parking lot.
The cars turn heads of some Paris Isabella customers but once they enter the store their attention is on the merchandise.
"I frequently hear customers say how different and unique it is," Marozzelli said. "I think it's kind of like a candy store for women."
Katherine Snow Smith can be reached at (727) 893-8785 or [email protected]