After over a year of shopping online due to the pandemic, I have a newfound appreciation for my long-lost love of in-store retail therapy. I’m also rediscovering many of our unique “only in the Keys” shopper-tunities located across the island.
Did you know shopping in Key West dates all the way back to the mid-1800s, when wrecking captains salvaged fine cargo goods — silks and laces, wines, silver and gold, exotic trinkets and jewelry — from ships grounded on nearby Florida Keys reefs? The treasured (pardon the pun) goods from exotic ports were sold at auction to eager shoppers.
Today, you will still find a vast array of distinctive shopping venues on our 2-by-4-mile subtropical island. Many shops proudly fly the rainbow flag, and some cater specifically to an LGBTQ clientele. However, all visitors can enjoy discovering hidden treasures at Key West’s welcoming emporiums.
Local LGBTQ retail stores include Graffitti, Leather Master and In Touch, and there are also many gay-owned and/or gay-operated art galleries. You can find most of them located on or near Duval Street, the island’s main shopping thoroughfare (Duval, BTW, offers 14 blocks of fine art galleries, clothing boutiques and gift stores).
Graffitti, located at 721 Duval St., has been a premier men’s store for more than three decades. Selling casual clothing and accessories, the emporium is best known for its wide selection of trendy swimwear.
Just off Duval is Leather Master at 418 Appelrouth Lane. Considered a leading adult boutique/entertainment store, Leather Master has been selling handmade leather goods for over 30 years — including apparel, one-of-a-kind masks, costumes and accessories.
One of my favorite LGBTQ-themed gift stores is In Touch at 706 Duval St. It’s SO much fun to peruse all the lighthearted gift cards, ornaments, candles, art and the insane array of amusing novelties. The store’s motto is so apropos: “We’re a little classy, a little bit tacky and a whole lot of fun — just like Key West.” So if you need a last-minute gift for a special occasion, the odds are excellent that you’ll find it at In Touch.
Skincare manufacturer Key West Aloe (established here in 1971) formulates hundreds of skin and body products: sun-care creams, exclusive fragrances, hair and bath goods and various aromatic gifts such as salt scrubs. It offers women’s and men’s products scented with mango, Key lime, frangipani, coconut and lemon eucalyptus among others.
Art lovers can explore Gingerbread Square Gallery, located on upper Duval Street in a Victorian structure overlooking a courtyard. Gingerbread Square is the city’s oldest private art gallery, opened in the early 1970s by the nation’s first openly gay mayor, Richard Heyman. It has showcased works by playwright Tennessee Williams and today houses a collection of vibrant paintings, art glass, sculpture and other offerings.
The Key West Butterfly & Nature Conservatory features an excellent art gallery and gift shop. They adjoin the very popular conservatory, a 5,000-square-foot glass-domed rainforest-like habitat where visitors can stroll among hundreds of butterflies from 50 to 60 species. The gallery and retail space are brimming with gorgeous displays of butterfly artwork, jewelry and other irresistible items.
For those seeking take-home libations, the Key West First Legal Rum Distillery and Hemingway Rum Co., both on Simonton Street, offer tastings and tours. Their local rums are even infused with Key limes.
And last but not least is Mallory Square, home to the nightly Sunset Celebration featuring performers and artisans. Here, visitors can find handcrafted gifts, collectibles and artisan jewelry. It’s also a fabulous place to people-watch if you’ve maxed out your shopping budget.
Whether you’re just shopping for offbeat gifts or a work of art, the emporiums of Key West are ready to welcome you back for some well-deserved in-person retail therapy.
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