LARGO — Tucked into a small shopping plaza on Walsingham Road is a store that wouldn’t look out of place in London’s Piccadilly Circus.
Just to the left of the door is a full-size replica of a red London phone booth. Shelves are lined with Cadbury chocolates, Manchester United shirts, dozens of varieties of tea and cups with Queen Elizabeth’s portrait. Here, too, are candles scented with English lavender, Harry Potter water bottles and even Fairy dish soap, a beloved staple of English kitchens.
The store is London Pride, and it caters to local anglophiles as well as the thousands of Brits who visit or live part time in the Tampa Bay area.
“It’s a little taste of home,” says owner Carole Clephane.
Even during the pandemic, business has been so good — more than 10,000 sales so far in 2021 — that she’s opening a second store on Kennedy Boulevard in Tampa this month just in time for the Christmas rush.
A London-born accountant by profession, Clephane first toyed with the idea of owning a British-themed store in 1994 when she moved from England to Germany. Her daughter, then 4, refused to eat the unfamiliar German food.
Clephane scouted around and found a place that sold British teas, biscuits and other foodstuffs. As the family continued to move — to California, South Florida and finally the Tampa Bay area — she always made a point to look for stores stocked with products she had loved back home in England.
In 2017 came the opportunity to buy a British store in Largo. Less than a week after it opened under Clephane’s ownership, Hurricane Irma hit and knocked out the power for three days.
“I lost every bit of food in the freezer,” she says, “and I had to close two weeks for inspections and insurance claims.”
The unexpected shutdown proved to be a blessing. It gave Clephane time to completely redo the rather drab interior with a better layout, new carpeting, fresh paint and a color scheme paying homage to the British Union Jack.
“Everything is red, white and blue, like the inside of the flag,” she says. “People come in here and it’s like a trip down memory lane.”
Clephane lowered prices, based on the premise — correct as it turned out — that business would improve. The store also benefited from excitement over the 2018 marriage of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle. A local TV reporter came out, Clephane was repeatedly on the air and “by the time he left, I had people lined up to buy Harry and Meghan souvenirs,” she says. “That really helped us take off.”
When the pandemic hit, the store closed for several weeks. Clephane took orders online and for curbside pickup. She and her husband, a personal trainer who was temporarily out of work, also began delivering to all parts of the bay area. They have continued both services ever since.
Clephane, who buys from importers, had relatively few problems with supplies during the earliest days of the pandemic because orders already were in the pipeline. “The biggest issue now is getting (shipping) containers,” she says.
The store’s most popular item is British bacon, which is leaner and rounder than its American counterpart. On a recent Sunday, Brits visiting from Tennessee and Kentucky cleaned out the entire case.
Also in high demand are Cadbury Flakes and Cadbury Crunchies, both chocolate bars; Rowntree Wine Gums and Fruit Pastilles (a guilty pleasure of this writer); Barratt Shrimps and Bananas, a foam-textured sweet; and Walker’s Crisps, aka potato chips.
A refrigerated case in the back of the store holds dozens of other British favorites, including Cornwall pasties, crumpets and cod fillets. Except for the bacon, which is cured, products containing meat like pork rolls and shepherd’s pie cannot be imported, so Clephane gets those from a British company in Cape Coral.
More recently, Clephane added gift items including the lavender-scented soaps and candles. A supplier suggested Harry Potter-themed items. She was initially skeptical “but it’s been a hit.’’
The store contains personal touches as well. Clephane makes her own coverings, called cozies, for the many types of teapots she sells, including the Brown Betty found in millions of British homes. She collects royal memorabilia; one cup dates back to the 1930s. A huge, limited-edition book that contains stunning photo portraits of “The Queen’s People” — guards, aides in waiting, etc. — is kept in a specially made locked case. Clephane wears white gloves when turning the pages.
The Queen’s Platinum Jubilee next year, marking her 70th year on the throne, promises to be another huge royal event for which Clephane will stock extra souvenirs and trinkets. Enduring interest in the royals is one reason she decided to open a second store; the spread of Brits throughout the west coast of Florida is another.
“I’ve put a lot of my heart and soul into this store and it is really well established,” Clephane says. “But I’ve grown here as much as I can.”
If you go
London Pride is at 14100 Walsingham Road, Largo. Hours are 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sundays. 727-517-3550. The new store is set to open this month at 4036 W Kennedy Blvd., Tampa. londonpride.com.