Juli Cragg Hilliard

Shopping on Main Street Lakewood Ranch

For months the buzz of power tools and the rhythm of hammers have played a prelude to the full symphony of Main Street. Workers built the stage sets. Stores and restaurants put scenes in place with paint and furnishings. Employees assumed costumes and speaking parts. Merchandise and food awakened the senses.
Browsing on Main Street at Lakewood Ranch during this time has been a lot like strolling around Disney World in the early morning — with walkways free of congestion, some things not quite open yet, and maybe a cast member scurrying by with Snow White’s gown in her arms.
It’s fresh. It’s pretty. It’s new.
As destination shopping finally arrives in southeast Manatee County, Main Street represents an oasis of boutiques and eateries worth a day trip. It also serves as a neighborhood center for residents living nearby or in condos on premises.
How to begin the day? A late breakfast at the Serving Spoon, timed before the stores’ 10 a.m. opening, can be a fortifying start to some leisure shopping. The restaurant’s curving, open layout and shades of botanical and sea green create a comforting atmosphere. Platters on the pickup counter, between the kitchen and dining room, display muffins, cinnamon and pecan rolls, and other pastries baked on site. The croissants are light and flaky, not doughy. The staff is young, friendly and cheerful.
People who like to eat well and shop upscale will feel right at home on Main Street, which was designed for their comfort and pleasure. Two sandhill cranes evidently feel that way, because the dignified pair often patrols the grounds. Palm trees and crape myrtles line bench-dotted brick walkways. A fountain with dancing jets decorates the east end near the lake. Because sidewalks are largely uncovered and shade depends on time of day, it’s essential to dress for the weather, just like shopping in the pre-mall era Main Streets. A specialty hat shop might do well here.
But don’t look for fast-food outlets or anchor department stores, either. The only real chain presence, other than Ritz Camera, is a large corner Chico’s. This women’s clothing retailer still proffers internationally flavored belts and jewelry that seem more up-to-the-minute than ever. But it has long ago expanded beyond loose, coordinating pieces to jeans and fitted Ts.
Sophisticated aura aside, it’s possible to entertain vaguely earthier impulses on Main Street. What customer could peruse Create Your Own without guffaws? Sure, the confectionery boutique has enough chocolates to make an addict swoon. But many minutes can be spent checking out such inexpensive, amusing gift items as foam coasters shaped like flip-flops, bee-bedecked sugar cubes, and cocktail napkins that advise, “The good thing about growing older is nobody wants to wear your clothes,” and “Warning: Alcohol makes everyone look cuter.” Coffee hounds can buy a cup of flavored or regular joe here, too.
Inside the door of the women’s store Natural Discoveries, a wee mechanical bird pipes up at entrances and departures. Cloud-covered cloth spheres suspend from the ceiling. Chandeliers of crystal or seashells illuminate tall, bedraped dressing rooms. The soft clothing is mostly linen and cotton. The owner designs garments and some fabric prints under the Click label.
Wish on Main is hostess gift central, in a range of prices: small spoons fashioned from abalone, pewter seashell magnets, hand-painted teapots and mugs, and a wall of fabric Brighton bags and accessories. Stuffed animals, tiny bibs, and chic little aprons nestle in a children’s corner.
Dragonfly’s wares are aimed at younger women, or those who can get away with dressing younger. Its offerings, reflective of current ornamented fashions, include beaded fish-shaped coin purses, bejeweled perfume decanters, gauzy halter tops, embellished jeans, flowing dresses, and tank tops emblazoned “Desperate Housewives.”
At the Perfect Pair, a mild-mannered yellow Labrador named Gringo acts as greeter, and a shirt slogan says it all: “Shoe Freak.” Women with a shoe fixation can select from striped open-back huaraches, rope-soled sandals with ankle ties, and sky-high heels in a snaky print or lace-covered material.
Time to eat again? The Serving Spoon is still dishing up breakfast and lunch. Or shoppers can make believe they are taking a break in another country; though unadventurous eaters can find something appetizing in any restaurant, inquisitive types may explore, too. Astoria Fine Russian Cuisine exudes linen-and-china elegance. Russian pop music on the stereo system accompanies the arrival of borscht, a hot soup of beets, cabbage, tomatoes and other vegetables, and a dollop of sour cream. Golubtzy, cabbage stuffed with chicken and rice and ladled with a tomato sauce, comes with mashed potatoes.
More informal MacAllister’s mixes Scottish and golf themes. Waiters wear tartan aprons. Whisky fans can acquire a scorecard to track samplings of the restaurant’s 63 varieties. The mostly American menu highlights a few Scottish-style dishes. Haggis bites offer a pastry-wrapped option for sampling traditional — and quite tasty — sheep-derived sausage. New England clam chowder lovers will find its Scottish cousin in Cullen Skink, a creamy potage of haddock, potatoes and onions.
And if you’re in the mood for Oriental, Saijo Sushi & Japanese Restaurant serves fusion cuisine and sushi, as well as more familiar tempura and teriyaki choices.
Shopping tends mostly to center on women, but it’s not all estrogen on Main Street. Manly stuff exists here, too. For one thing, Raymond James’ façade quite dominates the northeast stretch of street. For the sports fan, the Grey Flannel Gallery specializes in autographed photos, baseballs and other celebrity souvenirs. The store also creates shadowboxes of customers’ ticket stubs, athletic uniforms, snapshots, political campaign buttons, and other personal mementoes.
The Barbary Shoppe fulfills a contemporary gentleman’s grooming requirements: haircuts and color, hot lather shaves, facials, nail care, shoeshines and massages.
Got kids? The Little Bookworms caters to children with story times, toddler-sized chenille armchairs and a towering, silk-flowered tree straight out of a fairy tale. The shop also stocks books for teens and a bestseller section for adults.
Across the way, the six-screen Lakewood Ranch Cinemas, operated by the Sarasota Film Society and anticipated to open in late August, will show independent and mainstream movies. The concession stand will double as Main Street’s purveyor of lattes and cappuccinos.
It’s no longer necessary to travel as far as Tampa’s quaint Hyde Park or its vast International Mall — or Disney — to unwind in an escapist atmosphere of shopping and dining. Main Street, newborn and luxury-minded, will pamper us closer to home.

Selected Works

Articles
Sarasota Herald-Tribune May 6, 2008
Religion BookLine April 9, 2008
Publishers Weekly Oct. 15, 2007
Publishers Weekly, May 21, 2007
Religion BookLine, May 2, 2007
Sarasota Herald-Tribune, Feb. 16, 2007
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Sarasota Herald-Tribune, Sept. 14, 2006
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Manatee magazine, Aug. 7, 2006
Manatee magazine, Aug. 7, 2006
Religion BookLine, July 19, 2006
Sarasota Herald-Tribune, June 15, 2006
Religion BookLine, June 7, 2006
Publishers Weekly, May 22, 2006
Manatee magazine, April 24, 2006
Sarasota Herald-Tribune, April 22, 2006
PW Religion Bookline, March 29, 2006
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Sarasota Herald-Tribune, Feb. 3, 2006
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Sarasota Herald-Tribune, Dec. 9, 2005
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PW Religion Bookline, Aug. 3, 2005
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Sarasota Herald-Tribune, July 22, 2005
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Religion News Service, Jan. 3, 2002