Depending on whom you ask and their mood at the time, this holiday season will either be apocalyptic dystopia that leads us into rice-and-water poverty levels, or the best spending season in years. But it will be one or the other, or both, or a mix. Probably a mix.
The official projection for retail growth is just over 3 percent growth from last year, which is economist-speak for, “Meh, could be worse.”
As a retail writer, much of 2013 has been spent visiting new stores that are trying to make their way in the world. This will be their first holiday season, brave souls. So we're offering a handbook of several new stores for anyone who either abhors shopping or can't wait to go. Or both, or a mix. Probably a mix.
Is this every new store this year? Nope. Just a sample. But feel free to send along names of others you'd like us to feature.
Carlton Ward Gallery: First off, is the new Carlton Ward Gallery in Hyde Park Village. For those who don't know, Ward is an up-and-coming nature photographer whose family has been in the cattle ranching business for generations. He's helping create the genre of “conservation photography,” along the lines of early nature photographers who documented Yosemite with such grandeur that Teddy Roosevelt pretty much declared the entire West a national park on the spot. Cheers, Teddy.
You may know Ward as one of a pack of kayakers who paddled from the southern tip of Florida all the way up into Georgia, going through a thin ribbon of parks and ranches to highlight the stupefyingly beautiful wonder of nature in the core of this state. He's into bon vivant nature adventures like that to highlight places you may not know exist.
Ward opened a gallery/photo studio in Hyde Park Village a few weeks ago, and it's a stunning space, and apt contrast to his grand adventuring projects.
Suggested item: Framed photos can run $600 to $1,300. I also recommend his photobook of Florida cattle families.
Yes, Florida has cowboys, and Ward captures their life in scenes so stunning you'll want to leave behind all this concrete, saddle up, and ride out. $48.
1525 W. Swann Ave. (813) 251-0257, CarltonWard.com
West Elm: While you're in Hyde Park Village, go by the new West Elm retail store. This is the former Williams-Sonoma spot, and West Elm is an offshoot of that brand that's more lofty-style and quirky.
Think outrageously hairy throw pillows, Mason-jar martini shakers (yes, they're an inside joke), reclaimed/repurposed wood cabinets and Mad Men-style lounges. Thus, Hyde Park takes another step toward becoming a home-design center, as it already has Restoration Hardware and Anthropologie.
Suggested item: Rustic Wood Watch Box, with space for watches, keys and other dresser-top doodads. $29.
700 S. Village Circle, (813) 251-1052 , WestElm.com
Invitation Consultants: “Tactile” is one of the hottest trends in retail right now, with handmade goods enjoying a huge resurgence. Think “artisanal” and “man-made” and “local.”
And though the greeting card industry may be in a (ahem) tough spot, the quirky invitation business is picking up nicely — in some places. One of those places is Invitation Consultants, a shop in South Tampa that Kaity Eagle started at home and has now grown into a real store.
They print the bulk of their cards in-house, putting them right in the center of the handmade movement that Web sites like Etsy and Pinterest are helping ramp up into a full-blown frenzy. You may have seen some of their notecards: “You had me a HOLLA!” and “Kind of a Big Deal.”
Suggested item: Ugly holiday sweater party invitations, $27 to $30 for 10. Well worth it.
4062 Henderson Blvd., (813) 879-3748, InvitationConsultants.com
The Oxford Exchange: The Oxford opened about a year ago, but given that the location has become the hands-down hottest store/restaurant in the region, I'll bend the rules.
Think of the Oxford as four spaces simultaneously. There's a small, high-end bookstore that focuses on books as objects of beauty, with lots of hardback special editions and things that look amazing on the shelf. The marble floor alone is worth a visit. You'll see.
There's also a great Buddy Brew coffee counter and Tea Bella tea shop; both sell packaged items that make great gifts. There's a beautiful restaurant with glass atrium space for high tea. And there's a high-end/quirky home accessories store with sections for bath, living room, cooking and travel.
They specialize in finding unusual things you won't find in any local mall — fun stuffed animals for artsy kids, luxury leather notebooks, fine bowties, artisanal maple syrup and honey, and silver tea sets you'll pass down to your great-great grandkids.
Example item: Claridge's four-piece, “Hotel” tea set, $1,300, and the $20 wooden knife, spoon and fork set.
The address is 420 W. Kennedy Blvd., but you park on the other side, along Grand Central Avenue. (813) 253-0222, OxfordExchange.com
Container Store: Perhaps your house doesn't need any clutter picked up. If so, go ahead and thank your housekeeper. For everyone else who faces piles of … stuff … everywhere, the Container Store offers an oasis of clean organization and platonic neatness to envy with all your being.
There are sections to organize every part of your life: Closet, kitchen, office, bedroom, travel, dorm room and garage. The closet section alone has a dozen kinds of hangars. This savvy store puts explainer videos of nearly every product online, right there next to the product photo and price. Amazon is trying, too. Why? Because customers love videos and they produce revenue. Revenue, I said.
Example item: The Little Black Dress jewelry hangar that hangs in your closet and has dozens of tiny pockets to stow earrings, necklaces, bracelets and everything else. $19.99.
4720 W. Spruce St. (813) 774-4060, ContainerStore.com
Live Family, Live Happy: Here's a new store for those who like the “Just Be Nice” genre of bumper stickers and feel a kindred spirit with the “Life Is Good” hats and T-shirts. Longtime T-shirt designer Wayne Curtiss opened a shop just last week in WestShorePlaza mall, selling a line of happy-family theme shirts.
For instance, the “Live Chat” shirt shows sketches of a happy family at the dinner table, and the holiday-themed “Lighten Up” shirt shows a cheery kid helping his cheery dad string Christmas lights.
Example item: Most shirts cost about $21; kids' are $16.
253 Westshore Blvd., in the WestShore Plaza mall. LiveFamilyLiveHappy.com
Gander Mountain : We wrote about Gander Mountain opening last week, but I can't resist mentioning it again, if only for four words: Wild Game Meat Slicer.
Those words alone tell you so much about Gander, a store that has hundreds of guns and tens of thousands of ammunition boxes on sale at any given moment. This is a hunter's emporium.
Gander is so hooked on hunting that it has a private label line of wild game meat processing equipment. Smokers, dehydrators, sausage grinders, casing supplies and the aforementioned slicer.
If all that sounds gruesome, the store may not be for you, but it sure is for the hunters of this world.
Example item: Wild game meat slicer. $125.99.
11655 W. Hillsborough Ave. (813) 343-6010, GanderMountain .com
Datz Dough: Yes, this is more of a restaurant than a retail shop, but there's one big reason to include Dough in this list. That reason: doughnuts.
Datz relishes in outrageously awesome, weird and excessive doughnuts and is one of the few bakeries in town where you can get a well-made cronut, the combination doughnut/croissant that's super popular.
Datz has plenty of handmade items on the shelf as well, including sauces, syrups, funky aprons and other delicacies in jars.
Example tem: Brooklyn Brine, Whiskey Barrel Sauerkraut. $8.
2602 S. MacDill Ave. (813) 902-1979, DatzTampa.com/Dough
As for other things going on around town in retail, restaurants and trends, you just read a lot of it. But if you're a big fan of big malls, International Plaza has few new stores worth checking out this holiday season: Vera Bradley and Call It Spring to name two. Also, as a holiday gift, I will pass along this small tip.
Starbucks has what's become known as a Secret Menu. How secret? Some baristas don't even know what's on it. Here's how it works.
If you find some oddball item somewhere like Duck Dynasty High Caliber Jolt Shot or Giada De Laurentiis' Villa Terrace Moment (I just made those up) you can bring the recipe to your fav Starbucks and they'll make one up, providing they have the ingredients.
There are several websites devoted to the genre, www.starbucks secretmenu.net, for instance.
Here's an example: The Intertubes are abuzz with the Harry Potter-themed recipe for “Butterbeer,” forwarded to me by a source trolling through TheDateReport.com. So, herein, we replicate their recipe, with a tip o' the hat.
• Whole milk steamer, caramel syrup
• Toffee nut syrup
• Cinnamon dolce syrup
• Top with whipped cream and salted caramel bits
• Extra shot espresso, optional.