‘Tampa Fresh Foods,’ a grocery store made entirely of felt, opens at Water Street

‘Tampa Fresh Foods,’ a grocery store made entirely of felt, opens at Water Street
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From the outside, the inviting space on Tampa’s Water Street looks like a real, fully-stocked grocery store. But come inside, and you’re entering the world of felt creations by British artist Lucy Sparrow.

Presented by the Vinik Family Foundation and Art Production Fund, Tampa Fresh Foods opens Jan. 20 and runs through Feb. 20. It is free to attend.

With a staggering 50,000 handmade items ranging from produce to household cleaners to batteries, Tampa Fresh Foods is Sparrow’s most ambitious installation to date. What’s even more stunning is that each piece, designed by Sparrow with multiples created by assistants, comes back through her hand for painting and signing.

All of the items, displayed on felt racks, freezers and bins, are for sale at the installation and on Sparrow’s website, sewyoursoul.co.uk. Items representing fresh, non-processed foods, like Florida citrus and Cuban bread, are embellished with eyes, imbuing an anthropomorphic quality.

Guests can build their own felt Cuban sandwich at a bar, or step into the humidor room to select a Tampa cigar.

Items will be rung up at felt registers with belts made of fabric.

It took Sparrow two years to create the works and a solid two weeks to install the project in Tampa.

Sparrow, 35, will be a constant presence during the run of the installation. She dresses just as colorfully and creatively as her work.

At a preview event Tuesday, she said she was delighted by the way the installation turned out.

“You always hope it’s going to be as good as it looks in your brain, but when it actually comes and is finished you’ll finally go, yes, it worked out.”

Sparrow makes a practice of creating felt environments, including delis, bodegas and pharmacies. As an internationally renowned artist, she’s shown them in London and at international art fairs, including Art Basel in Miami, where Jeff and Penny Vinik first saw her work.

The Viniks, who through their foundation in the past have brought The Beach Tampa and The Art of the Brick to Tampa audiences for free, started collecting Sparrow’s pieces. Penny had the idea to approach Sparrow about bringing an installation to Tampa.

It was originally planned for last year, but the pandemic delayed it, which was somewhat serendipitous, as Water Street Tampa — a development led by Jeff Vinik — has grown in the past year.

Jeff Vinik said they were “blown away” when they walked into the installation for the first time, adding that they knew it would be good, but “this is unbelievable.”

“When we’re looking at ... bringing projects into Tampa, one of the things is it has to be accessible for everybody,” said Penny. “And so that broad appeal from kids to grandparents ... Lucy’s art, it just speaks to everybody.”

Tampa Fresh Foods will run 11 a.m.-8 p.m. daily Jan. 20-Feb. 20. Reservations are not being taken; limited numbers of guests will be allowed entry at a time, and masks are required. Asher Residences at Water Street Tampa. 1050 Water St., Tampa.

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