Sarasota Tea Company, also known as the Tea House. Photo Credit: Eddie Kirsch

Shopping in Southwest Florida: Charmed Times Three

Experience a day of strolling, shopping and eating in historic districts throughout Southwest Florida. Find truly one-of-a-kind items in these locations, which combine merchandise with artisanal food and drink.

On a day when strolling, shopping and eating in a historic area feels like the thing to do, there are a number of distinct, artsy districts in Southwest Florida that draw visitors looking for unique merchandise, entertainment and artisanal food and drink. Combining architectural or historic interest with creative spirit to charm those seeking out a thoroughly local vibe, here are three of such districts found in the area:

Historic Downtown Village Sarasota

In the block bordered by Fruitville Road to the south, Osprey Avenue to the west, Gillespie Avenue to the east and 4th Street to the north lies a collection of pastel, 1920s bungalows comprising Historic Downtown Village Sarasota, a group of about a dozen mostly women-owned businesses offering eclectic shopping and dining and plenty of parking near the Gillespie Park neighborhood, walking distance from downtown.

Artful Giraffe
Caption

On the fourth Friday of each month, shops stay open late for complimentary wine and music, luring shoppers to artsy and welcoming emporiums. The Artful Giraffe is a coastal-themed art and gift gallery sells a collection of Florida artists' paintings, metal sculptures, fused and stained glass, jewelry, seashell creations, ceramics and wearable art, as well as handcrafted candles and soaps and other gifts curated by owner Susan Forbes. Behind the gallery is Paint-Your-Own Pottery studio that offers crafty fun and classes taught by local artists. Susan Moen's The Crystal Cave strengthens spirits via a selection of stones, crystals, mineral specimens and fossils along with jewelry, books and gifts. Classes on crystal healing and pendulums and group readings related to alternative and holistic health promise to channel departed loved ones. Sarasota Marché-A Luxury Resale Boutique is a Parisian-inspired resale and consignment shop run by aesthetician and fashionista Marina Eckert. Treasures include new, used and vintage clothing, accessories, housewares, fine linens and even discontinued high-end cosmetics.

Tea House
Tea House

Hearty American homemade breakfasts and lunches are the specialty of the Breakfast House. Owner Wendy Goldberg serves up stuffed French toast, banana and nut pancakes and Key West Eggs Benedict to locals and tourists in her quaint yellow cottage with the white picket fence. Sarasota Tea Co. a.k.a. The Tea House calls itself a modern day teahouse, proffering loose-leaf teas, tea ware and accessories, gifts, edibles and live music in a relaxed, casual, indoor-outdoor coffee bar environment. Patron Jill Brantingham offers more than 130 loose-leaf teas sandwiches, baked goods from neighboring custom cookie and cupcake purveyor Cookie Cottage and a plethora of tea-related accessories.

Olde Englewood Village

West Dearborn St. in Englewood, south of Venice, Florida, beckons with a variety of antique shops, resale boutiques, restaurants and cafés, jewelry shops and a mind, body and spirit boutique. Home to Englewood's first newspaper, doctor and dentist, bakery, flower shop, shoe store, community theater and more, the historic street presents an easy stroll past attached and freestanding early 20th Century buildings that offer live entertainment, indoor and outdoor dining and periodic antique car shows, art fairs, holiday parades and a weekly farmer's market. Water management and conservation efforts are underway to win designation for Dearborn Street as the "First Green Mainstreet" in Florida.

Basix on Dearborn bills itself as "fun functional and fashionable goods for every day." Unique finds include furniture, clothing, waterproof totes, household goods, striped cotton rugs and pillows, as well as many handmade and one-of-a-kind objects. Funky antiques and gift shops such as Mermaids Caché, 405 W. Dearborn St. and Englewood Antiques spotlight the old, while Deborah's Interiors Home Accents and Gifts features custom, classy and "beachy" home accents, furnishings and professional design services by Deborah Tobe. Elizabeth Bryant Gallery boasts the largest collection of Oh My Gauze clothing in the U.S., along with jewelry by local artists.

Mango Bistro
Mango Bistro

Popular eateries abound, including the festive Mango Bistro —part European Café and part island bar—the locale for fun, fresh food and world music, and Vino Loco, which serves up a well-stocked bottle and cheese shop, premium organic tapas, cigars and live music.

For a touch of culture at the end of long shopping day, audiences flock to the Lemon Bay Playhouse, where high-quality community theater has taken the stage since 1987.

Village of the Arts

About 30 minutes to the north of the city of Sarasota is Village of the Arts. Since 1999, this Artist Guild of Manatee-created neighborhood south of downtown has offered a variety of colorful artist's live/work studios, galleries, cafés, healing arts emporiums, fashion and jewelry shops and specialty eateries. About 30 businesses are tucked into delightfully preserved cottages dating from the '20s and '30s in an area about 24 acres in size. The first Friday and Saturday of each month feature art walks and special events off the beaten track, but it's a good idea to call to confirm hours.

Sally's Studio in the 12th St. W. Gallery is where artist Sally Anderson Cosgrove presents an array of fanciful, color-splashed paintings on canvas and paper. Vinyl lovers will find their garage-punk rock & roll treasure trove at Doug Holland's Jerk Dog Records. New and used records (focusing on 7-inch), record players, books, indy magazines and more can be discovered in a funky spot that feels more like Seattle than Florida. Little Swamp Studio houses a co-op selling the works of 13 varied artists. Slumped glass, jewelry, pottery, photography, sculptures, birdhouses, magnets and greeting cards offer something for everyone. Linda Bronkema's fanciful Bits & Pieces highlights fiber art, home décor and stunning hand-made quilts plus cloth and yard goods for DIY fabric projects in a 1913 vintage home.

Dining options include the food and artistry combo of Chef Jim Copening and artist Donna Slawsky's at Arts & Eats Restaurant and Gallery, showcasing international, ethnic flavors along with live music, broken-dish mosaics, jewelry and more. At Ortygia, organic and locally sourced, home style Sicilian-French cuisine is presented by Chef Gaetano "Guy" Cannata. More casual fare and sweet treats can be savored at Retrobaked, specializing in gluten-free and vegan small batch gourmet cookies, cupcakes and other retro goodies. Sugar Cubed's locally roasted and processed coffees and teas combine with freshly baked specialty pastries and desserts that give new meaning to the notion of the corner bakery.

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