Pack your flip-flops and get ready to give them a workout: You can’t shop Sarasota in six-inch Christian Loboutins. Vacations and shopping go hand-in-hand, as you can tell from any travel guide to Paris, Hong Kong or Florence. But the real joy is finding something exquisitely made that’s also locally designed—and perhaps if you’re lucky, a store with a special expertise or concept you can’t find anywhere else in the world.
That said, consider this your guide to Sarasota’s insiders’ secrets, a tell-all exposé of the shopping haunts Frommer’s never heard of. We’ll take you to swimsuit
stores that know exactly how to fit you, shopping districts that rival the beach as attractions, and Sarasota-based jewelry and clothing designers with trend-setting, international styles.
From Sports Illustrated to Siesta Key
You’re on Siesta for the best white sand beach on the planet, so let’s begin with a swimsuit worthy of the setting. Sarasota’s own homegrown chain, Swim Mart/Swim City, has nine stores, all built on the premise that proper fit and great fashions aren’t mutually exclusive. “We specialize in separates,” explains owner Judy Johnson, whose mission is to fill every customer’s dream of a genuinely flattering swimsuit. But Johnson’s stores take separates to a new level—each 3,500 to 5,000-square-foot store has walls lined in separates as far as the eye can see.
“The ability to mix and match tops and bottoms solves the obvious issue of disproportionate hips and bosoms,” Johnson explains. But locals who live in bathing suits year-round demand perfection. “Our customers are flipping out over sophisticated separates that come in bra sizes,” she reports. Hot new names are Coco Rave for juniors and fashion-forward C Collection. Surprisingly chi-chi brands include Tara Grinna (bras to EE and bottoms to 18) and Sunsets (up to E bras) and adorable Palm Beach prints that are magnets for paparazzi (think Heidi Montag in Malibu and Heidi Klum in Sports Illustrated).
Johnson’s staff is trained to sift through racks with head-spinning designer names like Betsey Johnson, Trina Turk and Gottex to find the suit that will emphasize assets and camouflage figure flaws. Designed specifically to do just that are the ever-more fashion-forward Miracle Suit (would you believe you can lose 10 pounds in 10 seconds?) and Tommy Bahama, a best seller at Swim Mart and Swim City stores, which is also making waves with its own lifestyle store on St. Armands Circle.
To find out what makes Tommy suits so special, we went straight to the source: Lynne Koplin, president of Women’s, Tommy Bahama. “Our fit model has the perfect size specifications to ensure fit for a broad range of women, whether short or long torso, small or large-busted,” Koplin explains, noting that torso length, not height or weight, determines the right swimsuit size. “We’ve classified the four main body types and identified the key silhouettes in our inventory to accommodate them—our sales personnel are trained on which suits work for each body type,” she says.
Spectacular is the only body type that should wear Samba Brazilian Swimwear, and Sarasota-based designer Renata Swain has the physique to prove it (see photo insets, left). Swain’s fledgling brand shot to underground stardom at hip local stores like Stitch, T. Georgiano’s, CaliFlorida and Heather’s Closet. And though it’s just a year old, Samba is on its way to becoming a national brand with placements in boutiques in Cocoa Beach and Palm Beach and online stores with international customers.
A Sao Paulo native, Swain moved to Sarasota with her parents (former owners of the Chicken Pie Company on Gulf Gate) in 1992. But the samba beat is in her blood (her dad now owns the only Brazilian radio station in Florida, radiopompano.com), and Swain spotted an opportunity for her homeland’s best export when she noticed friends traveling to Miami to buy Brazilian bikinis.
“The Brazilian cut is one of a kind: It’s flattering on most women—smaller in back to show more skin. But it isn’t a G-string and it isn’t sleazy,” explains Swain, who has her designs fabricated in Sao Paulo in exclusive colors and fabrics. Most are $80 in local boutiques. “When a guy comes in with his wife or girlfriend, the stores know they will have a sale,” she confides. “Guys are the biggest fans.”
A Treasure Trove of Designer Jewels
Sarasota seems to bring out the genius in jewelry designers, encouraging individuality and creative self-expression. Begin on Palm Avenue, where Nikki Sedacca creates signature wirework, embellishing the finest strands of silver and gold with pearls and hand-picked semiprecious stones. This elegant boutique is the Sarasota-based designer’s flagship store. But her creations are carried at places from the Ritz-Carlton in Bali to the Four Seasons in Palm Beach.
Sarasota socialites can’t get enough of Sedacca’s trademark look, epitomized in the brand-new Unmistakably Nikki collection. “I’ve been perfecting this medium for years and years,” Sedacca explains, “and the name reflects what my clients tell me: There’s something about my work that says ‘me.’ Juxtaposing luster, color, shape and texture is my passion. I love to do it.” Pieces here are as affordable as $70, and prices climb as high as $40,000. Sedacca has been mixing sterling with accents of 18K gold for a young, fresh look that also happens to keep prices down.
Customers at The Met Fashion House & Day Spa on St. Armands Circle have discovered Soji, an incredible new brand designed by Sarasotan Lana Shelden. Soji necklaces ($135 to $360) feature pearls that Shelden hand-picks on frequent trips to neighborhoods and markets she’s been haunting in China for years. She mixes them in clusters, in pink or white, in myriad shapes and sizes, usually in combination with clear or tiger quartz. “I love the energetic qualities of quartz: It brings light and dimension into a piece of jewelry as well as a touch of glamour for day or evening,” Shelden says.
At the not-to-be-missed Juno & Jove (almost everything is green, and it’s all from socially responsible companies), you’ll find bijoux by Jasmine McAllister, a local designer who works exclusively with fair trade materials. “I use recycled sterling, and vermeil with an overlay of fair trade gold from Indonesia or Thailand. I try to work exclusively with fair trade gemstones,” says McAllister, who sells under the Jaszy brand name. Pieces go for $80 to $200; the look is bohemian classic and this side of edgy.
Where to find jewelry designers and featured swimsuits.
Agnes & Rafael Gallery Boutique
19 N. Boulevard of Presidents (941) 388-1923
Jaszy’s Jewelry at Juno & Jove
100 Central Ave., Sarasota,
June Simmons Designs,
68 S. Palm Ave., Sarasota
L’Atelier F, 538 Pineapple Ave.,
MK Designs by Marian Strickland
Nikki Sedacca, 49S. Palm Ave., Sarasota (941) 957-1957
Patrice, 1747 Independence Blvd, (941) 359-2577
Queens’ Wreath Jewels, 1310 Main St., Sarasota (941) 365-2027
Soji Incredible Treasures, at The Met Fashion House Day Spa & Salon,
35 S. Boulevard of Presidents,
CaliFlorida Surf Clothing Co., 5253 Ocean Blvd., (941) 544-1649
Heather’s Closet, 3800 S. Tamiami Trail, (941) 363-9500
Shore, St. Armands Circle,
465 John Ringling Blvd., Sarasota,
Stitch Boutique, 1636 Main St., (941) 366-7268.
Swim City, 3170 Gulf of Mexico Drive, Longboat Key, (941) 383-2288; 1960 Stickney Point Road, No. 1, (941) 922-4545;
Swim Mart Sarasota, 4223 S. Tamiami Trail, (941) 924-8618
T. Georgiano’s, 1409-B First St., (941) 870-3727
Tommy Bahama, St. Armands Circle, 300 John Ringling Blvd., (941) 388-2888.
Fashion Imports Are People, Too
Edgier still are the crop of European designers who have opened shops in Sarasota, providing an unmistakable, across-the-pond aesthetic. At Agnes & Raphael, a husband-and-wife team has developed a loyal following for her unique clothing designs and his artisan copper jewelry. Both are Polish émigrés by way of Germany. “My mother owns similar shops in Hamburg and Gdansk, and we buy from the same designers. You won’t see many of the names here in any other U.S. store,” Agnes explains.
Look for funky young sweaters, scarves and hats in sherbet-colored wool felt, and crisp casual linen dresses from Oska, Germany’s answer to Calvin Klein couture. But the big hits with locals in the know are Agnes’ own creations: easy linen jackets (from $150), deliciously soft cotton pants sets ($200) and casual slacks (from $100).
France Engels is a one-woman cottage industry and the new darling of Sarasota’s fashion crowd. Her little atelier on Pineapple Avenue is brimming with Engels’ own creations—everything from evening dresses (from $500) to faux fur capes ($900) and more. Before arriving on our shores with two teen-age daughters in tow, Engels worked for Yves St. Laurent and Lanvin in southern France. The accent here is on incredibly cut, one-off fashions, layered materials, shapes and a play on volume. “I don’t do custom,” Engels warns. “I design the clothes, but you buy off the rack.” If you’re really keen on something that hasn’t been made in your specific size, though, Engels can be cajoled into whipping up another.
From boutique districts to full-service malls, here’s where savvy shoppers head.
MAIN STREET, SARASOTA
Creativity abounds on Sarasota’s Main Street, from its award-winning restaurants and top-notch art galleries to innovative boutiques brimming with the newest designer trends. The ambiance is decidedly international, with everything from mod British style at Stitch Boutique to exquisite French pottery at Via Mediterranee to hand-crafted Peruvian silver jewelry at Nella Terra.
A stroll down Main Street will reveal experts in rare books and estate jewelry, and taste treats from organic frozen yogurt to French patisserie. Choose from Moroccan or Latin American haute cuisine, Thai, and a mélange of French and Italian bistros. Anchoring a potpourri of fashion and home furnishings specialty stores are national names Brooks Brothers and Sur La Table. Main Street has something for everyone, from snorkel gear to sports pubs, a multi-screen movie theater and a growing cache of chi-chi lounges (check out the new Ivory) as well as late-night dessert bars and cafes that cater to opera and theater buffs.
Browsers and serious collectors rub shoulders on Sarasota’s Palm Avenue, a delightful blend of glamorous 21st-century style and laid-back Old Florida charm. The elegant yet casual tone makes this one of the most appealing resort shopping streets in the world, with some of the prettiest shops tucked inside a landmark Mediterranean Revival hotel. The district—located off U.S. 41 (also known as Tamiami Trail), just south and east of Main—offers extraordinary fine art galleries, designer fashion boutiques, upscale jewelers and high-end home furnishings. This lovely section of town has charming cafés where you can people-watch as you dine outside, several emporiums specializing in fair trade and artisan-crafted gifts, and specialty stores with experts on everything from beach weddings to antique carpets
FIRST STREET, WHOLE FOODS MARKET CENTRE
Shopping serendipity is your reward for visiting the Whole Foods Market Centre, a haven for natural and gourmet products right around the corner from Main Street. The chic new enclave encompasses First Street, Lemon and Central Avenues, with stores catering to the tastes of downtown’s luxury condo dwellers, tourists and after-dinner crowds. Look for T. Georgiano’s, an elegant Italian shoe boutique; upscale giftware and home accessories at Envie; Write-On Sarasota, a bespoke stationery shop; Ashley Avery’s, a boutique for stylish tableware; and Juno & Jove, a wonderful shop focusing on green clothing, home fashions and more. Shop owners pride themselves on distinctively different assortments, from avant-garde skin care (Simply Spoiled) to designer pet fashions (Petropolis). Sip a latte from Starbucks, eat at a fashionable European-style outdoor café or just take time out to linger and browse.
BURNS COURT & TOWLES COURT
Named for Owen Burns, the developer who created this charming district in 1925, historic Burns Court is Sarasota’s hot new go-to spot for trendy fashion. Shops like L. Boutique, L’Atelier F and Paris Couture feature international and French-made clothes, shoes—everything from evening dresses to couture for the kiddies. Burns’ namesake district (bounded by Pineapple and Orange Avenues between Ringling and Mound) still retains its vintage cottages and character, with a notable art-house cinema, antiques shops and art galleries. The ambiance is pure nostalgia: Strolling here is like taking a voyage back in time.
Nearby, explore a genuine artists’ colony at Towles Court, off Morrill Street and east of Osprey Avenue. Sculptors, craftsmen, painters, potters, muralists and more will be found in a collection of restored 1920s cottages. Artists live and work here; tourists and residents come for fine and casual dining and gallery tours. Regularly scheduled Friday night art walks are fun opportunities to meet and greet artists
in a dramatic tropical setting.
Don’t miss the world-class shopping in Sarasota’s own interpretation of a chi-chi warehouse district. Ours is set in a historically designated area that boasts Allyn Gallup’s wonderful contemporary art gallery, chic furniture stores (Home Resource and Sarasota Collection Home Store) and a sprawling warehouse with treasures from around the world (Sarasota Architectural Salvage). Look for Everything But the Girl, a shop dedicated to vintage clothing, Derek’s innovative gourmet restaurant, and a specialty food boutique that doubles as a café (Sarasota Olive Oil Company). You can also take yoga classes at Rosemary Court Yoga. The Rosemary District spreads from U.S. 41 to Orange Avenue and from Fruitville Road to 10th Street.
ST. ARMANDS CIRCLE
Shopping is more fun when you’re on vacation, and the beautiful stores on St. Armands Circle are a must on every visitor’s itinerary. There are more trendy restaurants, world-class jewelers, outdoor cafes and luxury boutiques on St. Armands Circle than you could ever hope to scope out in one visit, so pick up a handy map at a kiosk and plan your attack while dining at an outdoor café. This shopping and dining paradise abounds with the best of European, Caribbean and American cuisine, plus Columbia, a landmark Cuban restaurant that exudes Old Florida’s flavor. Straight from the leading lifestyle magazines are the most coveted names in designer jewelry, fashion, shoe shops, gift stores and galleries that welcome browsing. From the ultra-chic (The Met, Dream Weaver and Foxy Lady) to the kid-friendly (Little Bo’Tique), you’ll find just the right stores and restaurants here to entertain throughout the day. For a change of pace, stow your purchases in your car and try the lovely walk from St. Armands Circle to Lido Beach. The sunsets are breathtaking.
This open-air shopping mall looks nondescript from the outside, but locals favor Midtown Plaza for everything from Davidson Drugs, a family-run pharmacy, to one of the most popular supermarkets in the Sweetbay chain. Coffee lovers head straight to Starbucks, but there’s a lot more in store at this shopping mall just off Bahia Vista. Midtown Plaza, long the home of critically acclaimed Michael’s On East restaurant, also houses Michael’s connoisseur-quality wine cellar and tasting bar and Elysian Fields, a gift store that locals adore.
SOUTHSIDE VILLAGE A unique Sarasota flavor permeates Southside Village, anchored by the renowned Morton’s gourmet market—a must for visiting foodies. Stop by for breakfast, lunch or dinner take-out, and after browsing terrific nearby stores. Set in a residential district just four blocks from the Gulf of Mexico, this is where locals love to shop and dine. But the services and quality here are too good to keep insiders’ secrets. The T-shaped district includes Hillview Street between Tamiami Trail and South Osprey Avenue, and Osprey between Hyde and Arlington. You’ll find designer clothing and jewelry, the new Libby’s Restaurant, and some of the hippest night spots in town. This self-sufficient little village is surrounded by neighborhoods dripping with beautifully restored “old Sarasota” architecture.
Sarasota’s most elegant mall is located off U.S. 41 between Siesta Drive and Bee Ridge Road, a short drive from tourist hot spots and a great place to while away a rainy afternoon. With major department stores including Dillard’s, Macys and Saks Fifth Avenue, consumers have access to the brands and fashion firsts offered in metropolitan cities. But local color abounds with specialty stores and free-standing kiosks geared to Sarasota’s sophisticated clientele. You’ll find unexpected treasures from potted orchids to strategically placed electronic massage chairs, and Cosimo’s, a locally owned restaurant that serves great Italian food. There’s no cinema, but lots of easy parking in a security-patrolled open-air mall lot. Thanks to 61 stores, high-end salons, a luxury spa and surprisingly good restaurants, you’ll stop by for an hour and want to spend the day.
This is adventureland for bargain hunters, with an array of fashion and home furnishings discounters and designer names that will make the savviest shoppers swoon (Stein Mart, Marshalls and Ross Dress for Less). Located on U.S. 41, the main artery that connects the Manatee-Sarasota-Venice communities, this destination mall is off Stickney Road, the south bridge route to Siesta Key. The Pavilion has a cosmetics superstore (Ulta), and a plethora of nearby restaurants, including locally owned eateries and national chains serving breakfast, lunch and dinner. If you venture one block east of the mall, you’ll find consignment shops, funky boutiques, galleries and gourmet food shops around the corner in Gulf Gate Village.
WESTFIELD SARASOTA SQUARE
After a major remodeling, this haven of name brand stores became the go-to shopping destination for every member of the family. Located on South Tamiami Trail (off Beneva Road), Westfield Sarasota Square mall is anchored by Macys, JC Penney and Sears—and a brand-new 12-screen theater. You’ll find teens congregating at hip sportswear stores, grandparents buying toys and ice cream cones, and fashionistas at trendy jewelry, shoe and clothing stores. Several new restaurants are available on-site, or you can grab a quickie at your choice of myriad national fast-food chains. The expansive new food court here is second to none. And if you overeat, join the parade of walkers who pound the pavement here early each morning when it’s too hot or rainy to exercise outside.
SIESTA KEY VILLAGE
Steps away from the world’s most beautiful white sand beach, Siesta Key Village makes no effort to conceal its casual, barefoot style. So close to the shore, you might walk over for lunch or an ice cream parlor treat—all you need are sandals, a swimsuit cover-up and your trusty credit card. Though tourist gift shops and casual watering holes dominate the scene, you’ll also find fine restaurants, destination stores (Foxy Lady, Beach Bazaar and Total Tennis can’t be beat), alfresco dining, and under-the-radar boutiques (CaliFlorida) that offer avant-garde style. For an egalitarian and playful shopping experience, check out Ocean Boulevard’s hodge-podge of unpretentious little stores in strip malls that curve along the bay.
As charming as the warren of stores lining the canals of its namesake Italian city, the boutiques and eateries in this Florida beach town beckon tourists to linger and explore. Venice Avenue is more relaxed than shopping streets in neighboring Suncoast cities, but just as sophisticated when it comes to world-class style. Tourists flock here year-round for chic fashion (Barefoot Contessa), home accents (Seaside Chic), giftware (Sirene) and the art galleries lining Venice Avenue. Visit the beach, and when it’s time for a break, choose from old-fashioned ice cream parlors, quaint tea houses or alfresco dining. And don’t miss the vintage resale shops around the corner on Miami Avenue. Located in south Sarasota County, and easily accessible from U.S. 41, Venice is well worth the short trip from downtown Sarasota.
FISHERMAN’S VILLAGE AT PUNTA GORDA
An iconic shopping destination, Fisherman’s Village is replete with everything from exclusive boutiques to kitschy souvenir shops, reminiscent of seaside vacations
from Key West to the New Jersey shore. This waterfront mall is enclosed and air-conditioned, the ideal hangout for shopping, dining, arranging water sports and island tours. Tourists arrive early to rent a fishing boat, jet skis or bicycles—the best way to tour Punta Gorda, a picturesque coastal community a short drive south of Sarasota via I-75. Be sure to visit at meal time, when lovely restaurants are ready to serve up great food in an idyllic setting. After a day of sun and fun, get down to serious shopping: You’ll discover rare shells, stunning beach fashions and local experts to outfit you with new snorkel gear.
In the heart of the region’s most coveted upscale golf communities, this shopping mecca off I-75 on University Parkway boasts great stores on both sides of the borderline between Manatee and Sarasota counties. The mall’s convenient location near the interstate and an influx of quality clothing, gift and home décor boutiques also draw crowds of tourists and residents from surrounding towns. For retail entertainment, check out Fit2Run, a performance footwear store with its own running track and gait-analysis treadmill. There are Total Wine, a new national wine warehouse; Five Guys, a Zagat-rated burger joint; Pei Wei, a much needed Chinese restaurant; and an outpost of Sarasota’s much loved Bonefish Grill.
LAKEWOOD RANCH Originally designed to serve the needs of residents of this renowned master-planned community, Main Street in Lakewood Ranch is a favorite destination for shoppers from around the region. With anchors like its multi-screen cinema complex and the Polo Grill restaurant owned by chef Tommy Klauber, the setting is reminiscent of a quaint pedestrian mall. Look for Le Couture Bridal, a world-class salon and spa owned by downtown’s Ana Molinari, plus gift and specialty shops (Pineapple House, Vanessa Fine Jewelry and Sunglass Express) that keep local residents coming back for more. For upscale shopping and dining with a hometown feel, follow signs for Lakewood Ranch, just east of I-75 right off University Parkway in Manatee County.
SAN MARCO PLAZA
This beautiful Venetian-inspired mall is typical of its Italian namesake, combining casual eateries, a wine emporium and destination stores. Just look for a clock tower that stands as a beacon for visitors, just as the original does in Italy in Venice’s St. Marks Square. To meet the needs of this burgeoning young community, San Marco Plaza is home to a gift shop filled with Italian glass jewelry and home accessories (i-Tesori), a new paper goods shop (Paper Tree) and a designer maternity and baby gear shop (A Bun in the Oven). Restaurants, a wine shop and ice cream parlor make this easy-to-navigate plaza a fun and fashionable place to visit.
PRIME OUTLETS, ELLENTON
Mediterranean courtyards, colorful mosaics and pretty fountains add to the ambiance of an ever-growing cache of luxury and national brands at this outlet mall north of Sarasota on I-75. Discount shopping here is addictive; if you don’t visit often you won’t know what you’ve missed—unless, of course, you’ve signed up for e-mail blasts and phone alerts to new merchandise and sales. Think Saks off 5th, Ralph Lauren, Kenneth Cole, Coach and Stuart Weitzman: The name brands get better each season at Prime Outlets’ Ellenton mall. All your favorite manufacturers are here, with a potpourri of outlets for clothing, sporting goods, home furnishings, fine linens for bath and table, children’s apparel, kitchen accessories, jewelry and cosmetics.
This article appears in the December 2009 issue of Sarasota Magazine.
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