PANAMA CITY — With 4,000 square feet of vignette-style displays, Avenue Sea has something for everyone — you can even create your own wish list.
“I like to call it ‘new traditional with an edge,’ or ‘eclectic with timeless style,’” said owner Christine Stringer, as we walked and talked throughout the designer showrooms. “We are still being discovered. It’s definitely destination shopping. We take great pride in being what other people aren’t. Our whole purpose is being unique.”
Tables were set with dinnerware and “napkins double wrapped for bang and drama.” A reclaimed wood table has been dressed up with Christmas trees and reindeer in coastal blues and whites, while others were decorated in traditional red, white and green.
“Our linens are very affordable,” Stringer said. “We are very price conscious. We try very hard to have an affordable elegant look.”
Avenue Sea also is the exclusive retailer between Pensacola and Tallahassee that sells Mark Roberts collectible fairies.
“They’re just happy we do our Christmas theme around them,” said Stringer, who has decorated her own table filled with fairies — a delight for her grandchildren.
If you are looking to match a particular plate or want to have your wreaths freshened, then just bring them in and the Avenue Sea girls can help make it work for you. But with such a great selection of dinnerware, you just might want to start fresh. Bridal registries are available.
“Skyros Designs, made in Portugal, has the best glaze of any I know,” Stringer said. “It can be dressy or casual.”
Maxwell & Williams offers colorful, as well as durable choices. Mix in white plates for added contrast.
Avenue Sea's trademark dish line is Gracious Goods by Gerson Company. The cake server from the Gracious Goods line, which features iron, has been a popular gift.
“Pewter also has been very good for us,” Stringer said.
Everything at the shop is for sale, from the artwork to the lamps, Vance Kitira candles, pillows and home furnishings. If you need guidance, check out one of the store’s free design classes, offered weekly.
“Natural wood is a real hit right now, focusing on the lovely beauty of the coast,” Stringer said.
Some of the unique pieces of furniture, include a reclaimed wood table which holds 36 bottles of wine, as well as a buffet with a cutting board.
“You can get artistically funky,” Stringer said. “We try to have something for everybody in price range and style.”
Avenue Sea, “a global coastal concept,” brings in customers from surrounding areas, such as DeFuniak Springs, who drive over and then “come back and bring a friend.”
“We’ll always have a section devoted to the sea,” Stringer said, “but it’s scattered all over and we make it sophisticated.”
One section even offers a “cottage look” for decorating lake houses.
Gus, an artificial composite pelican, has been the “signature item of the year,” set in a wreath or adorned with ribbon.
The Avenue Sea building is actually 6,200 square feet with the apartment upstairs, but it has not been renovated.
“It’s an old building. I love it,” Stringer said. It’s charming, goes back to the 1920s. We have had older men come in and say they came in with their dad.”
Stringer, who was on the board of the Bay Arts Alliance for 15 years, has a special connection to downtown and was involved in many of the renovations.
“We have the ambiance and I walk in here, and I am living the dream every year,” she said.
A Dickens of a Christmas
From 6-9 p.m. Friday, families can stop by for hot chocolate or sparkling cider and cookies, which will be scattered throughout the store during A Dickens of a Christmas.
“I’m hoping to have some entertainment. We’re going to jazz it up,” Stringer said.
A Dickens of a Christmas is a time for families to go downtown and shop in the evening, while enjoying the sights and sounds of the holidays, including horse drawn carriage rides. On Dec. 7, Frosty was playing on the side of a building, snow was blowing on the sidewalks and children enjoyed ice skating and jumping on inflatables.
Friday’s fun also will include the Wine Crawl for adults. For $25, customers can go from place to place, visiting all downtown merchants and restaurants that sell wine. Tickets are available at Avenue Sea, which features a nice selection of wine, as well as bar accessories.
“You walk in and we’ll serve you a sip of wine. That’s part of the design,” Stringer said.
Every second Thursday night of the month, Avenue Sea also hosts a wine tasting for $10, which includes heavy hors d’ouevres.
“It is basically dinner,” Stringer said. And when it comes to wine, they often ask, “What is the group in the mood for tonight?”
Her husband, Dr. Merle Stringer, has taught an educational wine class in the Mermaid Tales Wine Room, answering questions about glasses and storing wine.
Avenue Sea sells Veritas glasses, made of lead-free crystal.
“It’s so light, made in Portugal,” said Stringer, who also pointed out the “funky connoisseur tasting glass,” a great gift for men in a wedding party.
The Stringers, who have been married almost 46 years, have hosted a dinner party for the Florida chapter of Chaine des Rotisseurs, an international gastronomic society. They are able to pull bottles from their large home cellar to give specific examples of when a wine is old or if a cork has gone bad.
What: Home furnishings, accessories, art, linens; bridal registries
Where: 542 Harrison Ave., Panama City
Hours: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.Monday through Friday and 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday
Special Holiday Hours/Events: 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Dec. 14 and 21 (extended hours for Dickens of a Christmas as well as Wine Crawl on Dec. 14); 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. Dec. 18 with light lunch from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. for Shop the Magic (name goes in drawing for $50 gift certificate if you go in that day); 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Dec. 21 and 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Dec. 22 for Winter Solstice Sale (All Christmas will be half-price)
Holiday closings: closed Dec. 24-26, reopening Dec. 27-29 with regular hours; closed Dec. 31 and Jan. 1, reopening Jan. 3 with regular hours