TAMPA — It's a common complaint in downtown Tampa: Despite the many restaurants, museums and office buildings, there's no place to shop.
One local events planner hopes to change that or, at least, get people thinking about the possibilities.
Monica Varner has organized the area's first urban popup store, a big city concept used to create some retail buzz and rejuvenate vacant storefronts. She named it Karma: The Shops at Franklin to bring good retail karma to downtown.
"Downtown Tampa is really lacking in retail,'' said Varner, owner of Elan Event Studio in South Tampa. "I'd like to spark some interest among the retailers and test the market.''
Today through Saturday, Karma will take over the Vault, a newly opened events venue in the historical Exchange National Bank at 611 N Franklin St. About 11 vendors will sell handbags, jewelry, clothing and accessories, including A & A Boutique in Wesley Chapel, Juxtapose in Hyde Park Village and ME2 Designs on Etsy, a website focused on vintage and handmade items. The Salon 1.0 in the Channel District will offer Paul Mitchell products and do mini hair makeovers.
The popup store coincides with Tampa Bay Fashion Week, which runs through Saturday. Fashion Week executive producer Nancy Vaughn said they tried a similar popup concept last year among local designers but weren't able to get enough support. She hopes Karma's mix of retailers will attract shoppers from the nearby office towers and condos.
"Some of these vendors don't have brick and mortar stores, so this is an opportunity for them to experience direct selling to their consumers,'' she said.
Karma worked with the Tampa Downtown Partnership to recruit the vendors and market the event. Unlike St. Petersburg, with its eclectic mix of downtown stores, Tampa has been slow to establish a downtown retail core. Even its card store, Beverly's, closed in June after nearly 50 years.
"We see this as a precursor to more permanent retail in downtown,'' said Angela Ruth, the partnership's director of marketplace development. "Retailers need to have confidence in the market and feel as though they could be the first one.''
Ruth said she is in talks with other landlords about creating more popup retail. (Ruth is married to Tampa Bay Times columnist Dan Ruth.)
Similarly, the new Sunday downtown market will offer opportunities for retailers without a big financial risk. It starts Oct. 14 in the 600 and 700 blocks of Franklin Street.
Popup retail, sometimes known as flash retail, gained traction during the recession as cities looked for ways to jump start retail. The shops "pop up'' with little advance notice and last for just a few days. To create a sense of urgency, the merchandise often has limited quantities. While largely associated with urban areas, popup retail also covers Halloween costume, fireworks and other seasonal shops.
Kallie Wesley, co-owner of Juxtapose boutique in Hyde Park Village, joined Karma because she liked its focus on community and local artists. She has no plans to open a store in downtown but welcomes any exposure to her new shop.
"Anytime that you can take your business out of a location, it kind of freshens up people's view of you and exposes you to new customers,'' she said. "If I get one or two new customers from it, it will be a benefit to me.''