Indie Flea, Blind Tiger, FMoPA are "bullish on Ybor"

On a sunny Sunday in November, Indie Flea launches a new monthly market at 1920 Ybor City, a music and arts venue in the heart of Ybor’s historic district.

The second Sunday market spreads along the 1900 block of East Seventh Avenue, fills the atrium of the renovated venue and even stretches to the roof. It is a small, boutique market compared to Indie Flea’s long-established original market in St. Petersburg. Still, Indie Flea founder and owner Rosey Williams says vendors selling everything from designer vintage clothes to plants and a handful of Tampa pastry shops who set up pop-up spaces all report strong business. Some jewelry vendors have record sales, Williams says.

Indie Flea has debuted a new monthly seasonal market in Ybor City.Indie Flea returns to Ybor December 10th with its holiday market. Looking ahead, the seasonal market in Ybor is scheduled for the second Sunday of the month through April. Williams says the goal in 2024 is to close more blocks on Seventh and “grow our presence to connect more businesses there.”   

Williams, whose family ran vintage shops on Central Avenue in St. Petersburg, launched Indie Flea in St. Petersburg in 2011. That seasonal market, held November through April, has become an institution on that side of Tampa Bay over the last decade and change. Williams has worked to expand and establish a presence in Tampa with prior stints at Armature Works and in Ybor at Hotel Haya. This time, Indie Flea is back in Ybor with plans to stick around for the long term, she says.

“We’ve always felt connected there,” Williams says. “I love connecting with all the old-school family businesses there that have been there forever. They really need the support and we’re trying to make it more family-driven and more active during the day time. We’re working with those businesses in Ybor to bring back the daytime presence and the family crowd during the day. We don’t have any food vendors at our flea market in Ybor. We encourage everyone to go eat at the local family spots. We go eat at Carmine’s that day. We have big tables there. We make sure to support Carmine’s and the Columbia. We’re there to support the neighborhood.”

Williams feels it’s more important than ever to support the neighborhood now, following the late-night shooting over Halloween weekend that killed two and wounded 16. The shooting and the news coverage it has drawn show Ybor City as a late-night bar and party district troubled by violent crime. Some business owners and community leaders are striving to shape a different Ybor City- an iconic, historic Tampa neighborhood that’s emerged as a tech hub over the last several years and is reemerging as a residential neighborhood and an arts district.

Bullish on Ybor

In 2014, Roberto Torres opened his first Blind Tiger Cafe at 19th Street and Seventh Avenue on the main drag of Ybor’s historic district. The coffee shop was also a storefront for Torres’ clothing line, Black & Denim, and was next to a small co-working space he ran in the early days of tech companies launching and moving to Ybor.  

Today, Blind Tiger has seven locations around the Tampa area. In October, Torres built on that success by relocating and expanding the flagship Ybor location that started it all to 1823 E. Seventh Ave., the former home of the dive bar Boneyard. Blind Tiger Cafe has relocated its original Ybor City shop to a larger location along East Seventh Avenue and plans to add an upstairs speakeasy.

The short move expands the Ybor City Blind Tiger’s footprint from 1,300 to 4,000 square feet. In the larger space, they’re expanding their breakfast, lunch and appetizer menu and staying open later, closing at 8 p.m. instead of 5 p.m.

In a nod to the cafe’s name - a Blind Tiger was a speakeasy during Prohibition - there are plans for an upstairs speakeasy bar. The location may also start staying open until 10 p.m. on Friday and Saturday.

“I am bullish on Ybor more now than ever because I believe there’s real opportunity to be able to launch a business,” Torres says.  “Everything around us is rising.”

Crowds stroll up and down East Seventh Avenue in Ybor City.He points to the nearby Water Street Tampa project, which transformed an industrial area near the Channel District into a mixed-use neighborhood with high-end hotels, apartments, retail and restaurants, and Gas Worx, the redevelopment project now under construction that will transform formerly industrial land on the edge of Ybor into a mixed-use neighborhood. 

Torres, who serves on the advisory board for the City of Tampa’s Ybor City Community Redevelopment Advisory Board, says discussions and plans dating back to 2005 have envisioned Ybor’s revitalization into a “live, work, play” neighborhood and that transformation is continuing over time. 

FMoPA thrives in its new Ybor City home

 The Florida Museum of Photographic Arts has thrived since moving to a new home in the historic Ybor City Kress Building in September. The first-floor storefront location along Seventh Avenue is more visible and accessible than FMoPA’s former home in the Cube next to downtown’s “beer can” building, Rivergate Tower.

With the move to Ybor, the FMoPA has joined a bustling arts community at the Kress. Galleries, artist studios, arts organizations, performance and event spaces and a micro-cinema fill the second and third floors.

“The museum was looking for a fresh, vibrant start, expanding the audience base, a ground-floor presence to encourage more foot traffic and easier accessibility,” FMoPA co-leader Wendy Leigh says. 

She says Greg Morgan, the vice chair of the FMoPA Board of Directors, met with Ybor City developer and Ybor Kress Building owner Darryl Shaw and found the perfect fit for the museum.

“When they started talking about the Kress, there seemed to be this exciting synergy and renaissance in the arts, a highly collaborative vibe,” Leigh says. “It seemed to be the right community to be in. And it’s going great. We’re getting tons of first-timers, a lot of tourists and walk-ups and people who have never been. So that is working. Our existing members like the new place more. They like it more and they stay longer.” 

She says on Thursday nights, when many of the galleries and arts groups in the Kress schedule exhibit openings and special events, there is so much going on it’s difficult to get to it all. Leigh says that was also the case with the Ybor Arts Tour in October. 

“All of the arts groups in Ybor were open,” she says. “When we finished at our place I wanted to go upstairs and there are 15 galleries up there. I don’t even know how people left the Kress Building because there is just so much, which is a great problem to have.”

The innovation and creative center of Tampa

Tampa City Council member Bill Carlson is also a member of the Ybor City business community as president of Tucker/Hall, the public relations firm with offices on the 1300 block of East Seventh Avenue.

“I moved my company three-and-a-half years ago because I believe Ybor is becoming the innovation and creative center of Tampa,” Carlson says. “It’s always had creative industries. But it’s evolving with more and more tech companies, innovation companies and creative companies moving there all the time. It is transforming back to being a community. It was a community, then it was a bar district. Now it’s becoming a community again. I don’t look at things from the built environment point of view. I look at it from the people. What Ybor has is what St. Pete’s downtown had 30 years ago - the connectivity of the people, the rich culture.” And with the connectivity of people, you can build housing and offices around it to build a really vibrant, creative culture...One of the concerns is that Ybor will lose its edge and become elitist. But the grassroots arts scene and the grassroots innovation scene are showing the opposite. We’re getting a cross-section of everybody. Ybor’s history was built on cultural diversity and I think we are seeing that continue into the future. It’s not about the new buildings. It’s about making sure we invite and attract the diversity that gives Ybor its color and its competitive edge."

Carlson says an ad hoc arts group that meets the last Wednesday of each month isDiners enjoy the outdoor seating at Ybor City's Acropolis Greek Taverna. part of Ybor’s creative and cultural resurgence. A diverse cross-section of the arts community comes together to discuss what’s going on in the Ybor arts scene and look for ways to collaborate. Those talks have played a roll in the community of arts organizations and artists that has taken root at the Ybor City Kress Building, the launch of the annual arts tour and the future development of Artspace Tampa, an affordable housing and creative space for artists that will be located in Ybor. 

“Ybor, despite all the changes, still has a reputation as a bar district,” Carlson says. “That is slowly changing. But it’s still attracting people who want to go to bars. It will always have entertainment but it will be entertainment that’s compatible with a community. As it’s evolving, eventually the folks that like the late-night partying, they’ll go somewhere else…because Ybor in five years will be a community.”

For more information, go to Indie Flea, Blind Tiger Cafe, FMoPA
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Read more articles by Christopher Curry.

Chris Curry has been a writer for the 83 Degrees Media team since 2017. Chris also served as the development editor for a time before assuming the role of managing editor in May 2022. Chris lives in Clearwater. His professional career includes more than 15 years as a newspaper reporter, primarily in Ocala and Gainesville, before moving back home to the Tampa Bay Area. He enjoys the local music scene, the warm winters and Tampa Bay's abundance of outdoor festivals and events. When he's not working or spending time with family, he can frequently be found hoofing the trails at one of Pinellas County's nature parks.