Visit Tampa Bay area local shops for unique holiday gifts

It’s that time again – Christmas trees and Hanukkah menorahs are sprouting up in the front windows of private homes and in public places. Neighbors are putting up garlands, candles and ornate decorations. Kids are trying extra hard to be good. The holiday season is officially upon us, which has many of us scrambling to find the perfect gifts for friends and family.

Rest easy. We’ve selected a few of our favorite local shops for the unique, one-of-a-kind gifts you simply can’t find at the big corporate chains. Read on for some of the best off-the-beaten-path gems sure to kick your holiday shopping up a notch. Let this list stretch your thinking about patronizing additional small shops on main streets and in your own neighborhoods.

For your favorite foodies

Local shops and restaurants can feed a food lover’s dreams. If you’re looking to create a basket of mouth-watering goodies, the Ravioli Company in South Tampa is a great place to start. Fresh, take-home pasta is their specialty, which includes a dizzying array of rich sauces to go. Homemade ravioli, gnocchi, garlic bread — you name it in Italian, they’ve got it. While freshly made items make for a delicious gift, you can also pick up a gift card so that the recipient can select their own personal favorites.

Of course no meal is complete without wine. For those of us who can’t tell the difference between merlot and cabernet, the Redneck Wine Company in South Tampa is a down-to-earth spot that takes the intimidation out of selecting a stellar bottle of wine. This small wine shop offers a huge selection that’s continuously changing (along with patient staff members to help walk you through it). Don't be fooled by the simple storefront – these guys know their wine, and will help you find the perfect bottle for any meal or for anyone on your list.

From there, head over to St. Pete for some of the best desserts in town. Master pastry chef Michael Ostrander whips up everything from Belgian chocolate-dipped biscotti to chocolate espresso cookies at the St. Pete Bakery. An assortment of finely crafted desserts is sure to satisfy any sweet tooth on your shopping list. For those who like to bake, consider giving the gift of a pastry class taught by Chef Michael himself.

And stop in at the just-opened Locale Market for “a culinary experience created by chefs.’’ Expect an enormous array of Florida meats and seafoods, fruits and veggies, cheese and charcuterie, baked goods, wine and craft beer. Greatly anticipated favorites include mouth-watering pecan sticky buns and edible chocolate tiramisu cups.

Then for an incredible selection of artisan-flavored oils and balsamic vinegars, stop by the Middle Earth Olive Oil Company in the heart of downtown Dunedin. This charming little shop specializes in every kind of olive oil you can think of – including flavor-infused oils perfect for cooking or dipping. Middle Earth also touts an impressive array of sea salts, jams and jellies, honey and more.

For the literary types

Major book retailers aren’t the only reader paradises in town. The Old Tampa Book Company in downtown Tampa is a breath of fresh air for book lovers. Specializing in used, rare and out-of-print books, this mom-and-pop independent bookstore has been a neighborhood staple for nearly two decades. From poetry and art to science and history, this delightfully quaint bookshop has something for everyone.
For many bookworms, reading and writing go hand in hand. The Write Stuff in South Tampa designs personalized stationary, notecards, invitations and more (perfect for holiday cards and custom-made thank you notes). The Write Stuff also has loads of cute little décor items like kitschy wine glasses and antique-looking picture frames. For the writers in your life, you can’t go wrong with a customized journal or monogrammed bookmark. 

For the coffee and tea lovers
If you’d like to branch away from giving gift cards from corporate coffee chains this holiday season, The Blind Tiger Café is a great place to start. This cozy nook in Ybor City is part coffee shop, part co-working space, part retail store. (The name is a throwback reference to prohibition-era speakeasies.) It may be a darn good cup of Joe that draws you in, but it’s The Blind Tiger’s eclectic mix of apparel and textiles that’ll keep you coming back for more. (Think vintage tees, messenger bags, old-school ball caps and more.) For your favorite coffee and tea lovers, The Blind Tiger also sells Buddy Brew coffee and specialty teas.

But if you’re shopping for a serious tea drinker, the Hooker Tea Company in St. Pete is where it’s at. This tea shop showcases every imaginable tea accessory from bamboo tea scoops to stainless steel infusers. Determined to spark a bonafide tea movement, The Hooker Tea Company features wall-to-wall displays of teas and accessories to satisfy any drinker. The storefront is also a wonderfully cozy place to stop for a sip.

For the artsy people on your list
Shopping for art lovers (especially if you’re anything but) can be a challenge. Fortunately, Florida CraftArt Gallery in St. Pete makes it a little easier. This Florida nonprofit exclusively features art created in the Sunshine State. The space, which is nestled right in the Central Arts District, showcases handcrafted jewelry, flatware, clothing, furniture and more – all with an earthy, organic feel. All pieces are considered fine craft art. Translation? Art derived from elements like wood, glass, fiber, metal, clay and mixed media. You don’t have to be an art connoisseur to appreciate these unique, one-of-a-kind gifts.

For the more funky artist in your life, check out St. Pete’s ARTpool Gallery. They’ve got an absolutely huge selection of vintage clothing, shoes and retro accessories (like old-school cameos and ‘40s style hair barrettes and neckties). The gallery itself supports local art with more of an eccentric flare. In other words, you won’t find subdued watercolors here. Instead, expect quirky, borderline bizarre statement pieces. If you’re shopping for an alternative, indie type, ARTpool Gallery is holding it’s annual holiday crafty fest market on December 20-21. The event will feature tons of local vendors selling their wares.

For the fashionistas

If you’re hunting for the perfect gift for the fashion-forward gal on your list, skip the mall and head to Penelope T in South Tampa. This upscale boutique features ahead-of-the-trend apparel, shoes and jewelry. The looks, which are all at once feminine and edgy, were made for fashion lovers and runway junkies.

But if you’re looking to give a gift that’s got a story behind it, there’s no place like LivAfrika in South Tampa. This storefront sells rare jewelry and stunning home goods that are handmade by female artists in Africa. In fact, LivAfrika is a fair trade certified retailer that directly supports these women with a fair wage. The fact that the jewelry has a beautiful, authentic African feel is an added bonus.

For the homebody

Interior design enthusiasts will go absolutely gaga for Paper Street Market, a St. Pete-based furniture shop specializing in antique and vintage items. Many of the pieces have an industrial, almost unfinished look, which only adds to the charm. (Much of the furniture could pass for family heirlooms.) The kicker is that the prices are more than reasonable. It’s also probably a safe bet that Ikea isn’t selling antique oak mail sorters or French provincial dressers.

Home fanatics will also be charmed by Cleanse Apothecary in the Seminole Heights neighborhood of Tampa. This bath and body shop is devoted to specialty grooming products, soaps, candles and goodies for the home. As for holiday shopping, Cleanse Apothecary allows you to buy a la carte, or customize a gift basket with items like skincare products and handmade soaps. Their Art of Shaving kits are particularly cool for the men on your shopping list. 

Marianne Hayes is a writer, wife, mother and bookworm in the Tampa Bay region of Florida. You can read about her adventures in motherhood on her blog, With Kids in Hand. Twitter: @HayesMarianne. Comments? Contact 83 Degrees.

What are some of your favorite local shops? Post your comments below. 
Enjoy this story? Sign up for free solutions-based reporting in your inbox each week.

Read more articles by Marianne Hayes.

Marianne Hayes is a feature writer for 83 Degrees Media in the Tampa Bay region of Florida.