DOWNTOWN — Carol Leonard picks up a pair of dangling earrings from a spread of shining necklaces and crystal bracelets.
These look like something for her sister, Leonard says. She's getting an early start on her Christmas shopping. Really early.
And she doesn't have to leave her office building.
A jewelry vendor has set up shop in a conference room at the 100 North Tampa building where Leonard works in customer service for Chase bank.
It's the latest pop-up shopping event to take place inside an office building downtown. For years, concierges and organizers at 100 North Tampa and at places like Bank of America Plaza, the SunTrust Financial Centre and the Wells Fargo Center have arranged to showcase vendors conveniently for downtown workers and residents.
Vicki Mitzel, the concierge at 100 North Tampa, says it has been going on since at least 1995 here. Each event features one or two vendors, typically people who work in the building or spouses who don't have storefronts. They mostly sell jewelry, home accessories, skin care products and clothes.
The public is invited to shop, too. Events generally run from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. to catch people on their lunch breaks. Ten to 20 percent of an event's profits go to charities, according to concierges and those who manage the shopping dates.
Mary Anne Quigley, concierge at Bank of America Plaza, said the shopping events have been going on there since at least 1997. But she began getting more calls from interested vendors starting about a year ago as the economy remained stagnant.
Vendors will see the shopping pick up right around this time leading into the holiday season, Quigley said.
Mitzel said part of her job is to provide services for the more than 1,000 tenants in her building, like a shoe-shine stand, a newsstand, and opportunities to shop in a downtown where there are few.
It started, Mitzel said, because "we wanted some shopping and couldn't do it unless we went to Hyde Park."
Leonard, for one, appreciates the effort. "I always come in to look because you never know what you might find," she said. "It's so convenient to come in if you're looking for a gift for someone because I don't have time to go shopping."
On a recent day, Leonard found what she was looking for in the jewelry offered by Lois Dye, who also sells a vegan and botanical skin care line. Leonard got the earrings for her sister and a silver, layered necklace as a birthday present to herself. Just as she was about to leave, she remembered that she needed another gift. She quickly picked out a pair of silver hoop earrings for her daughter, who would be visiting soon.
Jackie Harmon, a legal assistant, stopped to shop on her way back from a workout.
"It's really convenient because there's really not a lot of shopping downtown," Harmon said.
Talyn Rose, an operations manager for an insurance firm, walked into the room with a friend on their way back from lunch. Rose said she appreciates the convenience of these shopping breaks.
"We would love to go out and run around at lunch," but "there's literally nothing to see," Rose said. "You either eat or go to happy hour, and then after that it's not a lot left."
Ileana Morales can be reached at email@example.com.