Going off the grid can be therapeutic.
So can browsing through antique and home decor stores, boutiques, and wine and cheese shops.
Or so I tell myself when I decide to head to stretches of two roads with shops I like that are close to each other in Largo, Clearwater and Belleair Bluffs, in an area north of West Bay Drive in Pinellas County.
I turn off my cellphone, so I can shop totally uninterrupted, something I rarely do on an ordinary day.
Sometimes, I take along my lunch and eat in the car between stops.
Other times, I treat myself at Wildflower Cafe, a pretty “ladies who lunch” spot, or a diner called Greek Islands, both close to the Largo shops.
My favorite shop along Clearwater-Largo Road is The French Nest Marketplace. It’s owned by Julianne Marie Bourdreaux, a friendly woman who offers classes on milk paint furniture painting. She greets customers with a lilting “bonne journee” and an offer of hot tea in a flowered china cup.
She sells antiques and new home decor, holiday gifts, charming greeting cards, lamps and an array of French linens, tableware, soaps and signs. Outside, in what she calls her rustic garden, you can find a revolving selection of recycled garden statuary and planters.
I can’t go there without buying something: an antique whiskey decanter or a first-edition “Treasure Island,” with illustrations by N.C. Wyeth. And, always, I pick up some greeting cards by artist Vicki Sawyer, whose whimsical birds, sheep and rabbits never fail to make me smile.
On the same street, but with very different inventory, Oddities and Antiques sells everything from concrete moon faces to an assortment of old dolls hanging from the ceiling – some with fish hooks dangling from their foreheads and stomachs. It has crucifixes, old dental equipment, vintage postcards, driftwood, a boy mannequin, bones, books and old bottles.
Outside, hanging from a chain, a human skeleton, adorned with metal butterfly wings, twirls in the wind.
It’s like an old museum of grab bag items thrown together. It’s fascinating and a little creepy. A sign over one door even says 666 – the devil’s sign – and its motto, “a unique blend of unusuals.” A stuffed wolf – or is it a dog? – wears a stethoscope and sits on a table behind pink and blue eyeballs and a ceramic hand. Beware: It’s only open Thursday through Saturday from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.
I also like Marcotte’s Design Salvage, where I recently bought a linen tea towel with a map of Florida on it. It’s too pretty to use as a towel, so I will use it as a tablecloth instead. This shop sells furniture, chalk paint, vintage lighting, architectural salvage, pillows, cabinet knobs, green glassware, barn doors, baskets, napkins, lamps, signs – many with coastal colors and themes.
Next door, Marcotte’s Coastal Market is also worth a spin around. There just aren’t many stores like these in our area, so it’s a treat to see what they have.
Coastal Living, on the other side of Clearwater-Largo Road, sells seashells, nautical lamps and tableware, clothes, repurposed furniture and an assortment of antiques, and new gift and decor items. A few years ago, I bought a beautiful antique lamp there that has palm trees on a reverse painted shade.
Recently, I saw a lamp made from a ship’s porthole there, another lamp with a crab base and a wreath of oyster shells.
For a more whimsical, eclectic experience, make your way to Pirates of Largo, which is jam- packed — inside and out — with yard art, signs, glassware, framed posters, knickknacks, jewelry and a wild array of other things. A framed photo of Marilyn Monroe gazes out at an Elvis head. Across the room, sits a blue dog and, on one wall, there’s a vintage Miami poster.
You never know what you will find, which is part of the fun.
Other treasures await over in Belleair Bluffs, along Indian Rocks Road, where I like to check out Antique Alley, with its cluster of shops. Down the road there are a few nice women’s clothing boutiques, and a wine and cheese market called Bella Vino.
My favorite spot in Antique Alley is a combination florist and gift shop called Petal & Vine. It sells holiday and garden items, sail bags, baby gifts, jewelry, clothes, greeting cards, some food items and unusual cut flowers.
I saw some tempting Halloween decorations – a concrete pumpkin with a gold stem, a lime green pumpkin, a black cat ornament, a skeleton tea towel – on my last visit.
Down the alley, a shop called Nostalgia sells framed black-and-white old photos of Havana and the Florida Keys for $40 each, dishes and other home goods with Cuban themes, as well as coastal items.
Mango Etc. art gallery sells artist Frida Kahlo-inspired pillow cases, artwork and dolls that are sure to please her fans, me included.
Next door, at Chloe’s Home Decor, I bought a glass jar with a bird on its lid that I filled with limes. For Thanksgiving, I subbed them out for baby pumpkins.
Collum Antiques, next door to Antique Alley’s much-heralded Astoria Pastry Shop, specializes in Civil War guns, swords, bowie knives, decoys and American Indian turquoise jewelry. Its owner Charles Edward Collum says he’s been there 30 years and knows where everything is in his chock-a-block shop.
South from Antique Alley, on Indian Rocks Road, I enjoyed browsing through For the Love of Boutique and two other shops called Suzette’s On the Rocks Boutique and Suzette’s Too, owned by sisters. All three sell clothing, shoes and jewelry in tranquil settings.
Tranquility, I found, is possible if you click off your phone, take your time, and explore a part of Florida you’ve never been to before. For good measure, take home a Florida tea towel souvenir to remind you of your travels.
Tips for the Trip: Where to Shop
In Largo and Clearwater:
The French Nest Marketplace, 556 Clearwater-Largo Road, N., Largo; open daily
Marcotte’s Coastal Market, 607 Clearwater-Largo Road N., Largo; open daily
Marcotte’s Design Salvage, 617 Clearwater-Largo Road, N., Largo; open daily
Coastal Living, 904 Clearwater-Largo Road, Largo; open Wednesday-Sunday
Oddities and Antiques, 1764 Clearwater-Largo Road, N., Clearwater; open Thursday-Saturday
Pirates of Largo, 1780 Clearwater-Largo Road, Clearwater; open Wednesday-Sunday
In Belleair Bluffs:
Antique Alley, 596 Indian Rocks Road, N.; some shops closed Sunday and Monday
For the Love of Boutique, 428 Indian Rocks Road, N.; closed Sunday and Monday
Suzette’s on the Rocks Boutique and Suzette’s Too, 400 Indian Rocks Road, N.; closed Sunday
Bella Vino Wine & Cheese Market/Espresso & Wine Bar, 100 Indian Rocks Road, N.; closed Sunday
Where to eat:
Wildflower Cafe, 1465 S. Fort Harrison Ave., Clearwater; open for breakfast and lunch daily
Greek Islands, 1501 Clearwater-Largo Road, N., Largo; open for lunch and dinner daily
By Karen Haymon Long
Published November 28, 2018