By Matt Wiley

It’s been a tough year for most, with a struggling economy nationwide and millions of people out of work. This holiday season, the perfect gift may not have been a shiny new diamond ring or a gaming system; what many people around the country want is just to find full-time, stable work. Some people, like Suzanne Alvarez, are putting their minds to work and thinking outside the box to come up with other ways to pay the bills.

A full-time job was at the top of Alvarez’s list this year. Unable to find anything but small, part-time jobs —mostly working with the elderly or providing childcare — for more than a year, Alvarez, a Temple Terrace resident, put her creative mind to work by painting storefronts with holiday-themed murals. “I’m honestly just trying to pay the rent.”

Her work can be seen bringing holiday cheer to businesses at The Walk at Highwoods Preserve shopping plaza on Bruce B. Downs (BBD) Blvd., just north of I-75. Elves throw snowballs outside of Heimberger’s Martial Arts, while kids play in the snow on the windows of Dr. Nicole Mitchell’s family dentistry office.

Alvarez, who holds a Bachelor’s degree in fine arts from the University of South Florida, explains that she had been sending out resumes for more than a year after her part-time job providing childcare ended unexpectedly, but received no responses from any of the places that she applied.

“I sent out an email to friends to see if they needed any help at their businesses,” Alvarez explains. “A friend emailed back who knew I was artistic and suggested that I paint storefronts. She lives in New Tampa, so I started up here. At first, I didn’t know anything about it. I even had to research what kind of paint to use.”

Alvarez is no stranger to drawing, having worked through her time at USF as a pastel portrait artist at Busch Gardens to help pay for school. She has since traded in her pastels for colorful acrylic paints.

She says that she first approached several nail shops around New Tampa about storefront painting, with no success. Then, she found the shops at The Walk, where she started with painting the window at Crown Trophies.

“(Painting storefronts) has worked out well,” she explains. “I’ll do it for one business, and then the business next door will see it and want it done to theirs. I try to include the something about the business in the painting.”

Santa Claus hoists a first place trophy over his head at Crown Trophy, and then cycles across the windows of Oliver’s Bicycle Shop. And, Frosty the Snowman twirls a pizza in the air on the front window of Westshore Pizza.

Using acrylic paint, Alvarez says that once she figures out how she will incorporate the business into the mural, she first puts down a layer of white, before going over it again with the other colors, to help the image stand out. She sometimes spends 5-6 hours on one storefront, depending upon how complex the design is to create.

“It takes a while, but it’s a lot of fun,” she explains. “I’m a creative person, and I like getting to express my creative ideas.” She adds that she plans to keep her window painting business going after the holidays.

Be sure to check out Suzanne Alvarez’s work at The Walk at Highwoods Preserve shopping plaza. If you own a business, or know someone who is interested in having any type of window artwork done, give Suzanne a call at 785-7993 or send her an email to


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