When Amy Marshall first moved from Tennessee, she had hoped to expand her online Etsy shop by placing her jewelry in St. Petersburg’s local boutiques. But downtown had more to offer. Amy found that renting a shop was really affordable and leased a small location. In late 2012, she set up her worktable and displays and opened the doors to Strands of Sunshine.
Amy did what so many have done along Central Avenue where you can find small shops owned by local craftsmen and artists showcasing their goods. They are bonded not only by location, but also by an undeniable strength in numbers. These numbers represent independent and local businesses that celebrate community, talent and culture.
The familiar lexicon “local, craft and independent” used by the community quickly piqued Amy’s interest. She saw a sticker – a round one, disseminated throughout the streets and in shops – that reads “Keep Saint Petersburg Local.”
Just one week after her opening, Amy became an official member of this local movement. Olga Bof, the founder of Keep St. Petersburg Local (KSPL), soon visited her shop and made her feel welcomed. Amy received direct access to other independent businesses along with special advertisement rates, networking events such as social mixers, Saturday Markets and the group’s annual community event Localtopia.
The group, which formed in November 2011, held its second annual Localtopia, celebrating the best of “all things local.” The event was staged in Williams Park last month and people came out in droves for local performers and over 100 vendors/participants from St. Pete’s local, independent businesses.
This revival of community, the pride in its local talent and independent economic sustainability, is at the heart of KSPL.
“These businesses exist and they will go away if we don’t support them. They’re our friends, neighbors, our community,” says Jorge Vidal, a board member of KSPL.
A few years ago Jorge returned to St. Petersburg to open his clothing shop and found that the community seemed suspicious of his small shop because they were used to bigger chains. This motivated Jorge to help switch the city’s consciousness. Jorge recalls the early stages of KSPL when there wasn’t a lot of money for marketing. It was “a sort of freakiness,” he describes. KSPL was able to spread the word via social media and held local events, such as Free Hug Day, that promoted the idea of communication among small businesses.
Local movements have been sprouting nationwide for some time, and KSPL has adopted some of their strategies. KPSL has had a lot of support from the American Independent Business Alliance (AMiBA), which hosted a KSPL affiliate at their last conference. Mayor Rick Kriseman appointed a Small Business Liaison in order to maintain an open line of communications to help the success of independent businesses. Members constantly host events that perpetuate this local vibe.
From this, KSPL’s membership has grown fast and it has a strong platform for independent artists and businesses to succeed. The non-profit now has almost 600 paying members and a board of six who donate their time. Oddly enough, Olga began this journey to open her own book and toy shop, but instead found a rabbit hole of others like her who needed community support.
Olga says she attributes the success of KSPL to a chance hitting of “a nerve that was ready for this growth.” She also greatly commends the group’s ubiquitous logo – originally designed by local tattoo artist Michael Keller for his wife’s candy store – the same sticker that prompted Amy to join.
Amy has become a very active member, attending events, networking and growing her business. She is now a KSPL board member. “I feel a civic responsibility,” she says, “to give back to the community.”