Shopping Local a Gift to the Community

Mermaid Bay Mercantile Company, owned by Andrea Furnam

Mermaid Bay Mercantile Company, owned by Andrea Furnam, is the latest shop to open on Beach Blvd.

Looking for a way to take some stress out of the holidays? Need better gift ideas? Look no further than your closest shopping district. Shopping local is becoming more of a trend as a way to avoid the chaos of malls and big box stores while also supporting local economy. There are plenty of thriving regional shopping districts to choose from with their own unique vibe, such as Corey Avenue and Pass-A-Grille in St. Pete Beach, The Edge and Grand Central districts in St. Petersburg and Gulfport’s shopping districts.

There is even a day dedicated to shopping local, Small Business Saturday, November 28, as well as events that promote the idea. Shopapalooza, billed as the Black Friday alternative, will have nearly 150 vendors, artists and businesses on hand November 28, plus food and family entertainment at Straub Park at Beach Drive and 5th Avenue NE.

The Gulfport Merchants Association (GMA), representing area businesses, non-profits and other groups encourages people to shop local on Black Friday, Small Business Saturday and year-round.

“By inhabiting the same community, locally-owned businesses have a unique connection to their customers because they are actually neighbors,” says Daniel Hodge, vice-president of the GMA. “The selections are often much more unique in small businesses than in malls and chains because of those connections.”

Local shops all over are gearing up for the holidays. Many feature singular hand-crafted items by local artisans and entrepreneurs that are unavailable anywhere else. The newest shop in Gulfport, Mermaid Bay Mercantile Company at 3107 Beach Blvd. S., is preparing for its first holiday season.

Bo-Tiki has expanded to include even more offerings for shoppers.

Bo-Tiki has expanded to include even more offerings for shoppers.

“Our concept is a modern version of a general store with the goal of the entire store eventually featuring only local handmade products,” says owner Andrea Farnum.

Says Joe Guenther, who co-owns O’Maddy’s and Bo-Tiki with his wife, Maddy, shoppping local offers more than just unique gift options. It’s about community.

“People like supporting Mom-and-Pop stores and restaurants,” he says, “and feel comfortable when they can talk with the owner of operations.”

For some long-time residents, however, “shopping local” is hardly new.

“I don’t think shopping local is a new trend in Gulfport. Shoppers have always been attracted to Gulfport because of what our shops have to offer,” says Vivian Hawker, who has worked at Domain Home Accessories and Gallery for the past five years and has been a resident of Gulfport for 23 years.

Whether it’s a new trend or not, community leaders agree that shopping local is a win-win.

“Spending at independent small businesses lifts us all up at the same time,” says Hodge. “Choosing to spend your money in a locally-owned small business is a concrete way of keeping much more of that money in the local economy since these businesses, business owners and employees are also our own neighbors. They in turn can spend locally, in a continuous cycle of positive returns.”



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