West and Grand

OE Insider: Secrets from an Oxford Exchange Tour Guide

We love the reaction of new visitors to Oxford Exchange, and we are always glad to answer questions or guide a tour.  Usually, the new visitor stops a few feet inside The Bookstore and looks in awe.  From the marble floors to the numerous skylights, and everywhere in between, there is much to explore. Here is some Oxford Exchange trivia for explorers, new and old.

  1. While Oxford Exchange opened on September 24, 2012, the original structure is much older.  The building is roughly contemporary to the Tampa Bay Hotel, which is now Plant Hall on the campus of the University of Tampa.  It is believed that the building was originally a stable — horseshoes were found underneath the floors during renovations.  (The horseshoes and other artifacts are in the reception area of The Commerce Club.) The building was converted to office space and was in use for decades. However, it sat empty for several years before Oxford Exchange founders, Blake Casper and Allison Casper Adams began remodeling the space.
  2. The Bookstore floor is not original.  Remember, this was likely a stable and definitely an office building for many years.  The Italian marble was cut overseas, shipped to the US as numbered pieces, and hand-laid throughout the building.   The intention was to create a timeless look, where new materials mixed harmoniously with the old. (The Shop carries hand-made Moroccan bowls which were commissioned to mimic the Bookstore’s marble floor.)
  3. The charcoal-colored exposed brick walls that run down the building from Grand Central Avenue to Kennedy Boulevard, from the first level up to the Commerce Club, are original.  If you look closely, in some places you can see the horse hair that was used to help bind the cement between the bricks. And, this is a clue to the next fact.
  4. Oxford Exchange was originally two buildings.  Once you cross through the doorway into The Restaurant, Conservatory, or Shaw Library, you enter a structure that was built in 2012, but carefully constructed to match the look and feel of the main structure. The main structure — housing The Bookstore, Atrium and Shop —  is approximately 125 years old.  The second building, where The Restaurant and Shaw Library sit now, could not be preserved.  During demolition, the bricks and wood from were preserved and repurposed throughout the space.  The old bricks were used in the new construction of The Restaurant and The Conservatory; the old wood pieces can be found in the ceiling of The Commerce Club.
  5. The pictures on the walls have meaning. Yes, the wall of portraits along the atrium staircase is intended to have the look of a British manor, but the portraits themselves were chosen for their subjects. The pictures in the downstairs hallway near the restrooms tell a story, as well, and most of them were chosen for their ties to Tampa history.  The picture of JFK with a McDonalds’ cup in hand was captured outside of the South Dale Mabry McDonalds just a few days before his assassination in Dallas.  Many of us are aware that Babe Ruth came to St. Petersburg for spring training, but how many know that he hit his longest home run across the street from the Oxford Exchange?  There is a plaque on the grounds of the University of Tampa commemorating this feat.  Almost every picture has a story except the anonymous lady with the leopard on a leash.  We have no idea who she is, but we like her style!
  6. We do not offer public wifi.  Occasionally, we’re accused of being in a time warp — it’s 2015, after all, and wifi is offered everywhere.  However, the core values of Oxford Exchange are Fellowship, Humility, Exploration and Curation.  We want to know each other, and that is hard to do if we are all busily exploring the world as presented by our devices.  While Google is a great search engine, we believe that people are the best resource for exploration.  How can we learn about each other, our passions and ideas, if we don’t talk to each other face-to-face?  The idea of an unplugged zone seems a bit odd at first, but it resonates. (“What’s Better Than Internet: Turning off wifi in favor of human engagement” is our most popular blog post!)

We love our building and the community that it creates, and we invite you to be a part of it.  Come in, explore, ask us questions, and share your experiences with us.  Oxford Exchange is special not merely because of its décor, or the items we sell, but because of the people who come in each day and make us a part of their lives and community.

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