Friday, April 15, 2016

Day excursion to Tampa to visit one lost department store and one charming-and-still-thriving independent bookstore.

Alas, a funeral for a dear uncle forced me to adjust plans for this week and fly to Orlando for his memorial. Although I've been to Orlando three times in the past for family functions, I haven't really gotten to see the city. But the truth is that even if you get beyond Disney and Universal and the various other smaller theme parks, it's really a relatively recent build, and I was hoping for a place with a little more history.

You see, Thursday was my birthday and while in years past, I enjoyed spending the day out of town, generally in Chicago or Madison, but at least once in Beijing, and a no-less-memorable stay in Cleveland*, of late, the store has generally called in the very busy month of April and its been hard to go anywhere. But being that I was concerned that if I flew in the same day for the event, I might well miss it if the plane was delayed, I might as well come in early on Thursday and have at least a little time to explore. And because it turned out that Tampa is really only about as far from Orlando as Milwaukee is from Chicago, that's where I decided to go.

According to Wikipedia, Tampa is ranked as the 5th most desired city where people want to live, but not only did I not know anyone there now, the only person I could think of was a college friend who was in a medical practice there some twenty years ago. I was trying to think of what the city is known for beyond the old Cuban cigar factories, but Wikipedia listed finance, health care, education, and tourism. The area has always thought of its major asset as sunshine.

I had a couple of destinations in mind. I'm a department store obsessive, so I had to visit the parking lot that once was Maas Brothers, a department store from the 1800s that continued into 1991, when it was folded into Burdines, though for the last couple of years, it had the unwieldy name of Maas Brothers/Jordan Marsh. While it was part of the Allied (first Hahn) chain since 1929, a nephew of the Maas family ran in well into mid century and had its distinctions, like cinnamon twists in the restaurant bakery and counters where you could mail back citrus fruit to northern neighbors. I read Michael Lisicky's Remembering Maas Brothers to prepare for the trip; I don't love the Arcadia photo scrapbooks as much as the History Press narratives. They must have had problems with a store archive, as more than half the photos of the downtown store were from 1946.

There was a second smaller store downtown called O. Falks and a multi-story clothing specialty store called Wolf Brothers. I couldn't find those either, as the downtown had not been too aggressive on preservation, nor had their dreams of redevelopment really come to pass. There are a good amount of financial and municipal high rises, a few generic hotels (except for the nice Meridien) and post-modern musueums, with several blocks of one-story buildings that looked like they were waiting to be torn down. There was some new condo construction, but it didn't feel like it was done. The Tampa Theatre is still beautiful.

Nearby was the stadium and Channelside district, which is one of those prefab districts that is probably packed before a game but not other times. Nearby Ybor City had some nice architecture, but the Bourbon Street vibe of the main drag was a little bar heavy for me. The architecture in the neighborhood seemed to have a lot of those shotgun homes you see in the South on House Hunters, particularly New Orleans. I also visited Hyde Park and Soho (South Howard), which looked a bit like a fancier East Side, and Seminole Heights, which felt like Rivewest mixed with South 27th Street. I ate at a nice ramen noodle place called Ichicoro. The Hyde Park Village shopping center had a lot of the same chain stores that have been seeping into the Third Ward - Anthropologie and West Elm and Lululemon. Do they have a phrase for this? Chain gentrifiers?

My other real destination was Inkwood Books, the well known Tampa bookstore that changed hands about three years ago. It's in a converted home just off Howard, across from a Greenwise Publix Supermarket. Greenwise is what they call their organic sections in traditional Publix - it really didn't seem that different to me. I've never seen a green market with as much fried food in the hot bar.

Inkwood had a kids wing which interestingly enough, had faceouts of several authors who'd come to Boswell lately, such as G Neri's Tru and Nelle, who I know lives on the Gulf Coast of Florida. The larger adult wing had a lot of displayed titles and very nice staff rec card that featured a line drawings of the various booksellers.

I clearly picked out that the bookseller on duty was Donovan from his recs, and being that we both had read and liked My Father the Pornographer, I started up a conversation. I was interested in buying a distinctively Tampa author, and after ruminating on Tim Dorsey - his newest is Coconut Cowboy, I instead gravitated to a short story writer named Shane Hinton, who has a collection called Pinkies published by an independent press in Orlando called Burrow Press. Donovan also told me that there's a relatively new Orlando indie bookstore called Bookmark It, which makes Inkwood look gigantic. It's 205 square feet. 

The store had a nice selection of cards and the Litographs spinner. I really liked their Amber Tamblyn upcoming event sign and and their Inkwood books window shades. The signage in general was particularly nice - the large fiction and home signs really caught my eye. 

And pretty much that was my day. I went back to my room in Orlando and read the first story by Shane Hinton, about a man who worries when he and his spouse are told she is pregnant with multiple kids. They obsess over names by trying to remember famous cartographers and reading their favorite books for name inspiration, but the narrator is distracted when the doctor tells him he lost one of his 13 kids to a python attack. It's time to investigate snake traps! I guess this is more of an issue in Florida than it is in Wisconsin. 

*Fine. Slightly less memorable.

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