Walking up to the storefront on Water Street in downtown Tampa, we weren’t quite sure what to expect. Shoppers walked out of Lucy Sparrow’s Tampa Fresh Foods with shopping bags, and we were welcomed into the store by a greeter who held the door and offered baskets to hold our fanciful finds. From the moment we stepped inside we were in awe of everything that lines the shelves.
England-based felt artist Lucy Sparrow and her team spent two years making more than 50,000 hand-crafted pieces of art to stock the shelves of the “supermarket,” finding inspiration in some of of Tampa’s iconic restaurants and local specialities. The artist pointed to Wright’s Bakery and Whole Foods among the places that inspired her around Tampa during her visits throughout the project’s evolution.
It was particularly fun to see Lucy’s Tampa and Florida inspirations brought to life in felt form — from a Cuban sandwich bar with all the fixings (she said Tampa’s famous Cuban bakery, El Segundo, inspired her) and stone crabs (Florida’s sustainable crustacean) in the seafood section of her supermarket to Cuban coffee on the shelves.
We did spot a bottle of Havana Club rum, too, which isn’t available for purchase in the U.S. but was a fun if inaccurate local reference. Another fun inclusion is the box of felt cigars, a nod to Tampa’s Ybor City, which was once called the Cigar Capital of the World.
In addition to local favorites, shoppers will find name brands they’re used to seeing in their grocery stores, like Wonder Bread, Cool Whip, Doritos, Corn Flakes and more.
The produce display is quite impressive, too, with watermelon, oranges, spring onions, avocados, corn on the cob and plenty more. Shoppers with a sweet tooth can make their way to the candy aisle where they’ll find Reese’s Pieces, Twix, M&M’s, Sour Patch Kids and Gobstoppers among the sweet treats on offer.
Something truly striking about the installation is how the people browsing take on the same body language as regular grocery shoppers as they walk through it — cocking their heads as if to the survey the offerings, deciding what’s for dinner, or perhaps squeezing a felt loaf of bread or lifting the heft of a package of chicken breasts like they’re the real meal deal.
Lucy Sparrow’s Tampa Fresh Foods opened on January 20 and runs through February 20. The artist is in the store every day to help shoppers find what they’re looking for, chat about her immersive art installation, check shoppers out at the cash registers, and to watch the reaction of people walking through. Someone mentioned that, from her perspective, Lucy looks at Tampa Fresh Foods as performance art — she loves to see how people react as they browse the shelves of what she calls “my most colourful, creative and interactive installation to date.”
Oh, and we should mention that, just like a supermarket, everything that lines the shelves is for sale, from the tiniest prawn at the seafood counter to loaves of Cuban bread to a pack of toothbrushes and much more.
When we asked Lucy what’s up next for her after Lucy Sparrow’s Tampa Fresh Foods closes, she said that she’ll return to England and may be headed to Los Angeles.
Wherever she lands, we know that Lucy’s bright and whimsical felt creations will wow crowds just as they have here in Tampa.
What: Lucy Sparrow’s Tampa Fresh Foods
Where: Water Street Tampa (1050 Water Street)
When: through February 20
How: the exhibit is first-come, first-serve and free to view
Top image courtesy of Lucy Sparrow’s Instagram page, @sewyoursoul.