She speaks softly and thinks big for business.
She is used to being behind the scenes and helping others to shine in the spotlight. First, she was a copy editor and graphic designer for a major daily newspaper, rarely having her own story byline. Next, on August 8, 2008 before buying local was trendy, she founded LocalShops1 as a business-to-business promotional service in Tampa Bay that helps others succeed. Now, she has her first storefront, and it’s in Gulfport.
Meet Ester Venouziou, a journalist who turned full-time entrepreneur at the end of 2011.
Her new space houses her own office along with a versatile daily pop-up option for other local business owners who want to test the Gulfport market, who don’t have a location of their own or who wish to host special events. A different artist-in-residence will be featured each month beginning in October 1.
The pop-up or “flash retail” movement began in Europe and the United States around 2003 in vacant retail spaces and abandoned storefronts. Now, it gives short-term, brick and mortar solutions to help fuel the cache of local business owners so they can compete with their more permanent and established counterparts.
“This is my own miniature pop-up version,” she said, smiling. At 2908 Beach Blvd. S., she will “whisper soft launch” in time for Gecko Fest and Labor Day weekend. The big grand opening will be in December 2016 or January 2017, she said.
Local to her means the entire Tampa Bay geographic region with an emphasis from the middle of Pinellas County southward.
“I want to get people thinking about buying and eating at locally and independently owned businesses” first instead of only going to “big box stores and malls,” she said.
Venouziou’s parents were her inspiration for this concept. When they would visit her from New Jersey, every time they would go exclusively to chains, she said. So, she began to make them daily itineraries for neighborhoods in cities like St. Petersburg and Dunedin to “encourage them to discover unexpected treasures and support local stores and restaurants first.”
When Facebook became popular, she began posting her finds and friends started contributing. It grew organically from there, she said, and became LocalShops1 that now includes multiple websites, a business directory, monthly and annual events, and two annual membership categories.
She gets the word out with a mailing list of 20,000 subscribers. A free weekly newsletter is sent to businesses while a monthly one goes out to everyone. In addition, 325 businesses and non-profits are paying members. Her main website is localshops1.com.
Annually, Venouziou hosts three big events: Shopapalooza in November, Top Local Chef and Marketplace in the spring, and the Best in Biz awards at the LocalShops1 birthday bash in August.
“I want to re-enterprise the courtyard again with events and collaborate with local business owners,” she said. “It’s all about networking and helping each other.”