Sunday, February 18, 2018
Business

Thurston: Bikini wax shop to test downtown Tampa's retail tolerance

Is downtown Tampa ready for more retail?

The answer may lie in bikini waxes.

Frank Grebowski is opening a European Wax Center at 105 E Jackson St., across from the Bank of America Plaza.

Wish him luck. Developing retail in the urban core — even nail and hair salons — has been a challenge.

Just look around. Over the past several years, Tampa has done a good job attracting restaurants and bars that do a steady business even after the office workers leave. Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park always has something going on.

But places where you can buy nonedible goods or grab a gift? Beyond the museum shops and a few other stores, downtown is woefully lacking when it comes to shopping.

Grebowski, 53, hopes his wax center can help change that. Although not a traditional retailer, the hair-removal salon looks to attract the same clients: downtown workers and residents who don't want to drive to do errands.

Scouting locations, downtown wasn't his obvious choice.

"A lot of people said, 'You don't want to be downtown,' " he said. "It's terrible to park and the sidewalks roll up at night and on weekends."

Spooked, Grebowski looked to more traditional strip centers in the Channel District and Wesley Chapel. He also considered downtown St. Petersburg, which has a more vibrant retail scene and the new Sundial shopping plaza.

Still, downtown Tampa beckoned. He wanted to be close to his home in Hyde Park and liked the idea of being part of downtown's growth. Surely, some of the 50,000 office workers and residents of nearby Harbour Island and Davis Islands could use a waxing.

Grebowski found what he considers the ideal 1,200-square-foot spot along Jackson Street within walking distance of office buildings, restaurants and two major hotels. It's in former storage space that has never been used for retail, evidence that retail hasn't been a priority downtown. It will be the fifth European Wax Center in the Tampa Bay area and one of nearly 600 nationwide.

Making a downtown location work, at least on paper, took some out-of-the-box thinking. To accommodate people wanting a quick wax on their way to work, Grebowski decided to open at 7 a.m. instead of 9 a.m., like most European Wax Centers. He also created an office so he can become the face of the business, unlike most wax center franchise owners who work behind the scenes.

Getting corporate on board took some convincing. Although chain officials liked Grebow­ski's marketing experience — he spent four years reviving a struggling opera in North Carolina — they were leery about the location and wondered if he might start with a more proven site.

Even city officials, while enthusiastic, cautioned him.

"They didn't want me to be one of those people who go first and get clobbered," he said.

Grebowski persevered, cobbling together about $400,000 in savings and loans to make the project happen. After an accelerated buildout, the European Wax Center will open June 12 with free brow, bikini and other wax services. An open house will be held from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Thursday through Saturday.

Downtown officials say the wax center and other personal services are the next step in the area's evolution as a 24/7 city. Beauty Brought Out hair and makeup services recently opened on Madison Street.

"The salons are a good harbinger of what's to come. After the salons, then come the boutiques," said Angela Ruth, director of marketplace development for the Tampa Downtown Partnership.

Interest in retail space has grown considerably, and the partnership is working with some building owners to create small storefronts or incubator space for emerging retailers.

More restaurants are on the way, too. TooJay's deli is opening later this month in the SunTrust Financial Centre, 401 E Jackson St. Nature's Table will follow in July at 400 N Tampa St., in the former Lucky Dill spot.

Grebowski's timing with the wax center is perfect, Ruth said.

"It's not so much that he's taking a chance," she said. "It's that this is the right time."

Times staff writer Amy Scherzer contributed to this report. Susan Thurston can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 225-3110.

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