Hot Fashions: Penelope T Meets Tampa Bay's Desire

South Tampa boutique penelope t has moved and expanded into a storefront at 3310 W. Bay to Bay Blvd. in Tampa. Owners Nickie Riley and Manne White say that the business outgrew its former space in the Hyde Park shopping center that houses Bella's Italian Cafe. Twice as large, the new space allows the 7-year-old store room to grow.
A grand opening party with a DJ and giveaways is planned for Saturday, March 3, 4-7 p.m.   

Riley, 32, and White, 33, opened penelope t  in 2005 after relocating to Tampa from New York. Both women grew up in small Florida towns -- Riley in Eustis, White in Arcadia. They became friends while students at Florida State University, where Riley learned fashion design and White studied merchandising. After graduating, they moved together to New York City as roommates and found jobs at fashion companies.

After working for several years, both women were ready to try their hand at running a small business.

"In New York it's such a rat race, and we just wanted to do something on our own,'' Riley says.

Starting with 800 square feet in Hyde Park, Riley and White created a boutique that reflects their vision of connecting women with free-spirited fashion, an idea embodied by penelope t's namesake, beatnik British model Penelope Tree. They make a point of stocking items that are difficult or impossible to find elsewhere in Tampa, like colorful tops, skirts and dresses by LA-based designer Corey Lynn Calter (whose fashions penelope t has carried since day one) and a new denim line called Mother, which White describes as flattering on everyone. Their goal is for customers to make memorable, lasting purchases -- whether a $300 cocktail dress or a $35 necklace -- that inspire good feelings time and again.

"We try to definitely be on trend, but not so trendy that you can’t wear it next season,'' White says.

Hanging Out With Penelope T

The store also carries handbags and a "tightly edited'' selection of shoes from designers including Dolce Vita, Twelfth Street By Cynthia Vincent and up-and-comer Madison Harding.

Riley and White travel to New York five times a year to discover new designers for the store, in addition to buying online. A new item arrives at penelope t nearly every day. From time to time, the women have designed clothing themselves, from Gasparilla-themed T-shirts to outfits inspired by Riley's travels in Vietnam.

Last March, they opened a second penelope t store in Jacksonville, where White lives with her husband. Their new Tampa location gives them 1,700 square feet to play with -- space the partners plan to grow into by slowly adding more merchandise while maintaining the lounge space of comfy couches that make shopping at penelope t a welcoming experience.

"Even from the beginning, we always wanted it to be a place where people wanted to come and hang out,'' White says.

Megan Voeller of Tampa is a contributing writer to 83 Degrees Media and the visual art critic for Creative Loafing. Comments? Contact 83 Degrees.
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