Walking along the quiet north end of downtown Tampa, I’d pass her on my way to a busier part of the city. She never failed to catch my eye. In my head, I called her Marie Antoinette.
In the window of the Paramount Wigs shop, there she was, this creamy-skinned mannequin head wearing the rolled and flowing curls of the famously guillotined queen.
The store’s old-fashioned display windows held dozens of other frozen-smiled and bewigged heads, blond, brunette and rainbow-colored. But Marie Antoinette sat high on her own pedestal that rotated in a slow circle day and night — there when you were rushing past to get to a lunch meeting, or looking for your car after the Gasparilla parade, or leaving a club at midnight. A newspaper story called the faces spooky. I liked them, her especially.
The wig store stayed there more than half a century. And I thought of Marie Antoinette as watching downtown grow up from a city core that went quiet after 5 p.m. — with a sad McDonald’s as an evening dining option — to shiny residential towers, hotels, restaurants, bars and finally, even grocery stores. In its latest incarnation, downtown Tampa has transformed into a place people live — actual people, walking actual dogs, the surest sign of an actual neighborhood.
But for a time, the north end seemed left behind as the city center filled up, the Channel District morphed into a community and the sleek Water Street Tampa emerged.
The other day, Marie Antoinette was gone. The shop space at the corner of Franklin and Cass streets, with faded letters spelling out Paramount Wigs across one side and Paramount Hair along another, sold. The windows were papered, faces gone. A post on Etsy mentioned a shop “relocation,” but no details.
That north-end neighborhood bordered by Interstate 275 has been quietly transforming, too. Next door to the empty wig store is now a Lit Cigar & Martini Lounge, with another club nearby. Across from the wig store, as I live and breathe, a new Starbucks opens soon in what was once a food-and-drink desert. Never thought I’d see the day.
But Jason Accardi — who recently purchased the wig shop with his twin brother John and another partner — disagrees.
“I always knew a Starbucks would go there,” said Accardi, who with his brother founded Seven One Seven Parking Enterprises. The brothers own lots of downtown properties. The wig shop sold for $2.75 million, according to the Hillsborough County Property Appraiser’s website.
A stroll north up Franklin, a wide, prettily treed brick street, supports that sort of optimism. And maybe it was inevitable the north end of downtown would see this latest rebirth, given the busy nearby Riverwalk and Tampa Heights, where people flock to Ulele restaurant and Armature Works.
Dan Traugott, president of the Downtown River Arts Neighborhood Association who lives in the nearby SkyPoint high-rise, hopes the old wig store’s next incarnation is not another nightclub, but a restaurant, store, dry cleaner, even a barbershop, something that brings day-to-day foot traffic.
“We just need our little village shops around here,” he said — places that make a neighborhood a neighborhood. Accardi said they’re looking for the right tenants.
“The wig store was a chapter, right? Fifty years,” Accardi said. Before that it was a children’s shoe store, he said. “We’re going to make an amazing next chapter for that corner.”
COVID shuttered downtowns across America, and in Tampa, restaurants and other businesses suffered without that steady stream of workers and visitors to support them. But the building and growing continued, changing the shape of things.
So ghostly Marie Antoinette won’t be there, turning her slow turn, for what’s next, and when I go by, I’ll miss that whisper of downtown’s past. But on what was once its quietest end, Tampa keeps going.