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Tampa’s Hyde Park Village thrives in a pandemic. How?

The outdoor shopping mecca in one of Tampa’s most charming neighborhoods has had its ups and downs in 36 years. (Remember Jacobson’s and Cactus Club?) Today, it bustles.
Shoppers and diners at the Meat Market at Tampa's Hyde Park Village.
Shoppers and diners at the Meat Market at Tampa's Hyde Park Village. [ LUIS SANTANA | Times ]
Published Dec. 23, 2021

TAMPA — Hyde Park Village is having a moment.

Tucked in a neighborhood of giant oaks and winsome bungalows, the sprawling outdoor shopping mecca is busy with foot traffic. People fill outside tables at Forbici and Wine Exchange, crowd weekend farmers markets and attend candle-pouring, indoor-cycling, cake-decorating and pottery-painting venues.

Preppy clothier Brooks Brothers closed in the pandemic, along with a couple of others. But Sephora and Nike have opened, with more new tenants to come. Sixty-three businesses make up six city blocks of high-end boutiques, restaurants, winding sidewalks, green space and yes, a pink ATM that dispenses cupcakes 24 hours a day. There are no vacancies.

A cupcake ATM at Sprinkles in Hyde Park Village.
A cupcake ATM at Sprinkles in Hyde Park Village. [ CHRIS URSO | Tampa Bay Times ]

In its 36 years, Hyde Park Village has had its ups and downs — the earliest days when neighbors likened it to a horror movie, headier ones when hipsters packed Selena’s and Cactus Club, and waning ones when big-name stores left. Factory Shops of Hyde Park, went the local joke — until its big remake and current bustle, even as some other centers struggle with empty storefronts.

So why?

While online shopping has gained massive traction, “there’s nothing like walking down Swann Avenue and getting a Popsicle,” said Paul Rutledge, senior vice president for retail advisory services for global real estate company JLL. “People still want to be out, to see the fashion, to touch the Lululemon shorts.”

Maybe especially now.

“It’s pleasant when you sit under those trees or walk down the sidewalk. It’s comforting, it’s reassuring,” he said. “It’s like, yeah, this is what I used to do.”

In the 1970s, developers set sights on one of Tampa’s most charming neighborhoods, dubbing the project Old Hyde Park Village. Neighbors who feared its size and traffic would mar the historic Hyde Park community had another name for it, based on Canadian developer Amlea Inc.: The Amleaville Horror.

Jacobson's department store in Old Hyde Park Village.
Jacobson's department store in Old Hyde Park Village. [ DAVID KADLUBOWSKI | Tampa Bay Times ]

It opened in 1985 with grand dame department store Jacobson’s. Over time, the center would sport Restoration Hardware, Williams Sonoma and Ralph Lauren, and bring in Benetton, Banana Republic, Laura Ashley and Ann Taylor. Former Tampa mayor and man about town Dick Greco lived in a condo over the stores in the 1990s. On weekends, Hyde Park was the place to be.

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A fashion shoot at Tampa's Old Hyde Park Village in 1986.
A fashion shoot at Tampa's Old Hyde Park Village in 1986. [ Times ]

But economic cycles took their tolls, and a big blow came when International Plaza opened across town in 2001, rolling out high-end names Nordstrom, Tiffany and Neiman Marcus. The next year, Jacobson’s closed, a loss still lamented by locals. More tenants left. A new owner came and went.

Jacobson's closed in Old Hyde Park Village in 2002.
Jacobson's closed in Old Hyde Park Village in 2002. [ HELLE, KEN | Times (2002) ]

In 2013, Boston-based WS Development bought the village for $45 million with plans for a big remake. This included narrowing the main road, widening sidewalks, replacing dying oaks and adding on-street parking, benches, community tables, dog bag stations and a little free library. “The walkability of the project was a priority,” said Hyde Park Village general manager Nicole Dee.

By then, “old” had been dropped from the name. And forget “shopping center.” This brand of outdoor mixed-use venue — people on laptops, runners passing through, dogs being walked — is called a “lifestyle center.”

“You’re in a community,” said Rutledge, who worked with Hyde Park’s original developers in the project’s earliest days. “You’re not in a mall.”

The shops — Bonobos, Kendra Scott, Anthropologie, Sur la Table — have remained upscale.

“WS has always done a great job of targeting their tenant mix to their demographic,” said Jeff Green, retail analyst with Hoffman Strategy Group in Arizona. “They’ve been able to get some of the best-in-class tenants in there.”

And, he said, “the consumer’s going to go where there’s the fewest vacancies.”

Bonobos, an upscale men's store, opened its first Tampa location in February in Hyde Park Village.
Bonobos, an upscale men's store, opened its first Tampa location in February in Hyde Park Village. [ Courtesy of Bonobos ]

Retail insiders say food is no small factor. Better-performing centers have “some of the best-in-class food, more chef-driven brands and less chain operators,” Green said. Hyde Park’s venues range from burgers and pie at home-grown Goody Goody to steak frites and share boards at swanky On Swann. Coming soon: Champagne-based Bouzy.

Goody Goody restaurant in Hyde Park Village, where customers dine on burgers and shakes.
Goody Goody restaurant in Hyde Park Village, where customers dine on burgers and shakes. [ CHERIE DIEZ | Tampa Bay Times ]

The dining option at lifestyle centers is “four times more powerful” for consumers than the retail option, said C. Britt Beemer, chairman and founder of the Charleston-based consumer behavior research firm America’s Research Group.

Patrons at BarTaco in Hyde Park Village.
Patrons at BarTaco in Hyde Park Village. [ LUIS SANTANA | Times ]

General manager Dee said that, in the coronavirus crisis, a city initiative called Lift Up Local that helped bars and restaurants increase outdoor seating was “huge” for Hyde Park.

“During the pandemic, those open-air experiences had an advantage nationwide,” she said. “Open-air shopping outperformed indoor malls.”

Former Tampa Mayor Sandy Freedman (who still misses Jacobson’s) said Hyde Park’s busyness is another sign of Tampa’s current growth. “People want to be there,” she said.

“I think everybody’s been waiting for Tampa to have its moment,” said Dee. “And we’re having it.”

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