Sarasota, Florida

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 04 March, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 04 March, 2007, 12:00am

One in five people in Sarasota, Florida, a small city on the state's unhurried west coast, is said to be a millionaire. With the city's perfect beaches, glorious year-round weather and outstanding restaurants, it's no wonder the ultra-leisure class wants to winter here. The shops most frequented by the upper crust are found on storied St Armand's Circle, built in 1926 by Sarasota's most famous resident of the time, John Ringling (of Ringling Brothers' Circus fame). It has since become a fancy shopping area.

Despite some excessive 'cuteness', there are unique enterprises among the stores of St Armand's Circle. The one with the most eye-catching fashion is the new Verdiva (below left; 368 St Armand's Circle, tel: 1 941 388 3622). Owner Shirin Rahimipour is on a mission to make tradition-bound Sarasota hip, challenging the fashion status quo with a nod to celebrity style. The boutique stocks high-end trousers from the likes of Kirsten Jade, whose 100 per cent silk, hand-embroidered ball gowns cost from US$700. Swarovski-crystal accented jeans fetch US$495 and handbags and belts are US$125 to US$195: a steal.

If you want to wear glitter and live with it too, the humbly named People's Pottery (bottom left; 362B John Ringling Boulevard, tel: 1 941 388 2727; www.peoplespottery.

com) has the domestic trinkets to lend sparkle to your nest. With glass and pottery from 400 artists in the United States, you'll find signed and numbered hand-crafted glass paperweights made from volcanic ash at US$72 to US$130, and Raku-style pottery vases in metallic colours from wizards of clay Tom and Nancy Giusti. Prices for their super-sized vessels range from US$75 to US$350.

Everyone knows smoking is the eighth deadly sin, but for those who still indulge, or who are just nostalgic for paraphernalia such as ashtrays, cigarette holders, pipes and humidors, a visit to Bennington Tobacconist (5 Fillmore Drive, tel: 1 941 388 1562; is essential. This family business has occupied the city landmark for almost 50 years. Its woody and masculine interior is a tobacco aficionado's fantasy, with a rack of briar pipes, bins of 50 or more tobacco brands and humidors of limited-edition cigars from Ashton, Arturo Fuente and Davidoff. Prices per cigar range from US$3 to more than US$20.

On the subject of sin, a St Armand's boutique crawl must end on the sweetest of notes at Kilwin's Chocolates and Ice Cream (312 John Ringling Boulevard, tel: 1 941 388 3200). Just follow the smell of fresh fudge to where talented confectioners melt and stir chocolate in big copper pots, then lay out slabs of fudge on marble tables. The sweet stuff comes in 22 flavours, from peanut butter fudge to fudge laced with mint chocolate chips.

When the southern sun sets on the Rodeo Drive of west coast Florida, shoppers morph into diners keen for a good seat at the alfresco tables of dining venues such as Lido Grille and Bar (326 John Ringling Boulevard, tel: 1 941 388 0155). There, diners can enjoy stellar views of the new kids on the block and the old guard, both out for their evening amble-cum-fashion show.