Q: How long have you owned your business, Mangia Gourmet, in Gulfport, and why did you select Gulfport for it?
Mangia Gourmet has been in business for a little over two years now and I feel that Gulfport chose us, not the other way around.
Q: What made you accept your appointment as president of the GMA?
My flexible schedule allows me to give the position the attention I feel it deserves. I have served on the board for two years now, so I pretty much understand how it works, and I felt we have a good team in place that will make my job easier. Furthermore, nothing is broken so all I have to do is lead us in the positive direction we are already headed.
Q: What does the GMA do? What are some of its main programs? How much money does it collect for charitable causes each year?
Our mission statement reads: “The Gulfport Merchants Association is a nonprofit organization whose mission is to promote Gulfport’s Art Village as ‘a flourishing and ever-growing art, shopping and dining destination in Pinellas County.’” Our focus is on the Downtown Waterfront District but we have many members from outside that area.
Advertising and promotion of Gulfport as a visitor/tourist destination is primary. To that end we have really ramped up our spending on advertising in the last two years and will spend more than $90,000 on advertising and promotion through print, both locally and nationally, as well as social media and an expanded web presence.
In addition we feel that it is important to give back to the community so in the last two years we will have donated almost $20,000 to local charities as well as to fund public art by Gulfport artists.
Local charities who have received funds from our efforts include:
Daystar Life Center
Circle of Friends of the Gulfport Public Library
Sonia Plotnick Health Fund
AIDS Service Association of Pinellas
Gulfport Senior Center
Gulfport Little League
Gulfport Historical Society
Community Law Program
Gulf Coast Giving
Operation Santa (Gulfport Police Department)
Our sources of income are from the following:
Gulfport Tuesday Fresh Market
1st Friday and 3rd Saturday Art Walk
GeckoFest, Gecko Ball and Gecko Crawl
We also sponsor Gulfport’s Get Rescued and the monthly Clothing Swap (which since its inception in 2010, over 200 large bags of clothing, and several hundred dollars have been collected for CASA). Both of these give 100% back to the charities.
Q: Do you plan to make any changes in the way the GMA operates or implement any new programs/activities during your tenure?
One of key challenges for growth in our efforts is to develop a series of specialized volunteer teams to help make us better at everything we do including advertising, marketing and Public Relations; special event creation, management and staffing; giving back to the community, including charitable contributions and public art; and others.
I would also like to see more synergy with other local organizations. To that end we have an exciting new project which is the opening of a Gulfport Visitors Welcome Center in the main Waterfront District – a joint effort between the GMA and Gulfport Chamber of Commerce. Plans are not 100% final, but we are quite confident that this will happen and quickly.
Another exciting new development is a two-day Gulfport Fine Arts Festival to be held in Veterans Park in early 2016 in cooperation with the City of Gulfport and the Chamber of Commerce.
Q: What qualities does Gulfport have that make it a good place to do business?
The greater St. Petersburg Clearwater and Beaches area is a rapidly growing tourist destination while at the same time, the complexion of these areas is changing dramatically from its old reputation as “God’s waiting room” making it a rapidly growing desirable destination for full time transplants who want an urban flavor and vibe, but love the Florida lifestyle and weather as well. Gulfport is quite unique in this rapidly growing area with its diversity, old Florida charm (I‘ve lost count of the number of first time visitors say that it reminds them of Key West before it became commercialized). Another thing that I hear almost daily is people who have lived in the area for a very long time and had “heard” of Gulfport, but had never visited and can’t believe what a great town it is and promise to return and bring their friends.
Word of mouth is always the best (or worst) advertising and it spreads exponentially! In our Waterfront District, all of our businesses are locally owned – there are no chains. More money stays in our community as a result. Our biggest challenge in my opinion is how we as a business community and community at large can improve our collective economic lot by bringing more people into town to enjoy all we have to offer, spend some money with our local businesses, and do this without sacrificing any of the things that make us unique and special.
Q: What’s the most exciting thing you see happening in Gulfport?
I am amazed every day at our strong sense of community and willingness to work together towards achieving our common goals and the way things seem to come together and work out organically, almost as though there is a collective Gulfport conscience.
Linde says he arrived by accident in Gulfport via Chicago when he met his new bride, Sarah, almost four years ago. If you see him on the street, he says, feel free to ask him to tell the story – it’s kind of funny.
Sarah and Scott are also co-owners of Lizard Licks, a market based Fair Trade art and crafts business also with a full-time space in the Gulfport Beach Bazaar.