Rent the runway, Tampa Bay? There is a more earthy version in Seminole Heights

TAMPA – The dress seemed to be everywhere.

Graceful halter neck, flattering empire waist, mini accordion pleat skirt, in a color called meerschaum. You might see it on a woman at a party, on another at another social event. It seemed to suit everyone, tall or short, like in that travel pants movie. Carleigh Blesing wore it to a bridal shower and later spotted it at a garden center wedding.

“He’s doing his rounds, doing his magic,” said Blesing, 34.

The travel dress was from Valhalla, an unusual clothing store tucked between an antique store and a Health Mutt pet on Central Avenue in the funky and historic Tampa neighborhood of Seminole Heights.

There, for $ 39 a month, members get what’s advertised as “unlimited closet,” borrowing something like 6,000 used clothes, from t-shirts to tight dresses to work clothes. They can take out three items at a time and keep them for as long as they want, and the store does the laundry. (“We do a lot of laundry,” owner Danielle Ferrari said.) Customers can also buy clothes directly like at a traditional resale store, which makes up about half of its business.

The Valhalla storefront at 6112 N Central Ave. in the Seminole Heights neighborhood of Tampa. [ ARIELLE BADER | Times ]

His path to open the doors four years ago was not predictable. Originally from Virginia Beach, she worked as a contractor in heavy civil construction, landing in Tampa for a project to widen Interstate 275.

“I was super stagnant in my career,” said Ferrari, 38. “I wanted to do something different.”

She thought about starting a tool rental business – “like an Airbnb for tools” – but the computer programming aspect was not for her. She had always liked used clothes. Like many savings and consignment enthusiasts, she enjoyed the hunt, never knowing what you might find.

She also believes in sustainability and a circular economy “where you don’t produce anything and you don’t have waste,” she said. “He gets used to it over and over again.”

Ferrari therefore drew up a business plan and went to clothing resale stores to build up an inventory. Without donors, she spent her savings. She couldn’t afford to fail.

The resale business has a lot of fancy names like Sweet Repeats or Attic Addicts, but they didn’t want cute or punny. A friend suggested Valhalla, which a dictionary defines as “a place of honor, glory or happiness: paradise”. Today, it has two employees and 130 members, reduced by 150 before the pandemic. It helped the store pivot to delivery during these months when the coronavirus was changing everything.

Customers say it’s a chance to try something without committing. They also say that some finds are too good to be abandoned. (As Blesing said, “Yeah, I need that green crushed velor hooded thing that I can only use one day a year in Florida.”) Like the travel dress, a pink beanbag skirt pale has been taken out over a dozen times.

There is also a personal style aspect to the company. Valhalla is putting items aside – for an event, a job interview, or just because they find something that suits a client whose style they’ve come to know. These pieces are kept on shelves at the back with a customer’s name on them.

And Ferrari likes to push the limits. To a woman who wrote she hated yellow, Ferrari said, “I know… but I want you to try this yellow.”

Erica Neal, who works for the University of South Florida foundation in fundraising, won a free month in Valhalla in a raffle and has become passionate about it. By now they’re well educated in Neal’s love for pink, pink pants, a hot pink coat. Ferrari will find something with pink polka dots on a navy blue background and will hold this item to themselves, Neal said.

“She really refines your style and your personality,” said Neal, 29. “She pulls things specific to your body type.”

“It’s like having your own little glamorous fashion army,” said Blesing, grants specialist for the city of Tampa.

One side of the store is more conservative career clothes, the other is fun. Like the neighborhood itself, it’s not particularly label-conscious. If someone comes up with a particularly high-end item for sale, Ferrari can send it to Labelswap, which markets itself as a high-end resale at the International Plaza level, so the seller can get their money’s worth.

Valhalla buys clothes in exchange for store credit. Everything is for sale, and you don’t have to be a member to shop. It costs an additional $ 5 per month to borrow jewelry.

Accessories on display at Valhalla in Seminole Heights.
Accessories on display at Valhalla in Seminole Heights. [ ARIELLE BADER | Times ]

Big business has jumped on the clothing rental bandwagon. Rent the Runway has made a name for itself with designer clothes and accessories, and was the first mention on a list of the 10 best clothing rental services you can buy. She reviewed in 2019.

Blesing said she was a shopper looking for a shirt that works and five different colors, but since joining Valhalla, she has found that she really loves fashion. She found a crazy dress during the pandemic that made her happy to wear on her next Zoom call. She wore the same blazer borrowed from job interviews promotions and got all three.

“The next time someone is looking for a blazer, (Ferrari) can be like, ‘Carleigh has had success with that,'” she said.

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