“The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go. ”
~ Dr. Seuss
Have you ever encountered a space that engaged your senses, captivated your imagination and positively charged your emotional and intellectual batteries?
I’m not talking about Disney World, a high-tech sports bar or the latest commercially-driven business destination. I’m referring to a space or place whose atmosphere intensified your personal happiness.
I recently encountered such a space. It welcomed me, supported my soul and invited me to share myself with a community of others. Those I encountered exuded the presence of people like me: thinkers, dreamers and visionaries of various persuasions. It fueled my sense of joy.
My encounter occurred while stepping through the doors of Tampa’s Oxford Exchange. Thinking I was attending a book fair to support a local friend, I discovered instead a heightened sensation worth sharing.
Upon arrival, I became transfixed, suspended and instantly elevated in a positively vibrating environment. It was altogether new, yet somehow familiar.
Was it the interplay of high ceilings, natural light and darkly-hued wood walls? Was it period furniture and antique typewriters that reminded me of some forgotten past?
A hallway beckoned me down to a loggia where people of all ages chatted comfortably over coffee cake and tea. The electric feeling of the space continued and I realized the connection was far more profound.
After spending almost six hours in the space, I’d barely scratched the surface of all that could be experienced here. I chatted with authors and bumped into people I hadn’t seen in several years. I also made several new acquaintances during workshops that morphed into engaging and thought-provoking conversations. Still, a business club remained to be explored, books to be perused and edibles to be consumed.
Just what was this space was about and why did I feel so enlivened and at home here?
The attraction was only partly related to aesthetics and a location across from the the Coptic spires of the University of Tampa, former home of the historic 1890s Grand Hotel. The spirit of Oxford Exchange arises from a curious mind willing to explore the possibilities of putting passion ahead of profit.
The former horse stable and early 20th century open arcade is the brainchild of Blake J. Casper, Chairman of the Caspers Company in Tampa. The building and its evolving outgrowth derives from a curiosity Blake developed while studying at London School of Economics during the ’90s.
His fascination with London’s shops, museums and guilds lingered. Years later, Tampa’s 2-story edifice beckoned him to give form and substance to his passion. Blake wondered if he’d be able to create a similarly curios space in the U.S. and duplicate the lost art of London’s guilds.
Being curious about London’s sense of community was one thing; trying to create one of his own in Tampa was another. “You have to suspend your doubts and fears,” he admits. Something like this has never been done before.
Fortunately, Blake isn’t alone. He’s gathered others of complementary passions to join him in this commercial and social venture. “It’s not something we understand completely,” Blake says. Surprisingly, the idea is drawing a faithful community of people who are making this place a destination.
I plan to return again and again to this unique space. It’s a place that makes me joyful and resonates with my spirit, too.
If you’re planning to visit Tampa, I hope you consider checking out this space for yourself.
Wherever you live, consider listening in to my latest podcast.
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Maura Sweeney is a Podcaster, Author and Speaker
Her mantra is “Living Happy – Inside Out!”
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