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Community Voices: Peace, love and prosperity hopes for St. Pete retailer

Anne Core

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Welcome to the Catalyst’s Community Voices platform. We’ve curated community leaders and thinkers from all parts of our great city to speak on issues that affect us all. Visit our Community Voices page for more details.

Sandi Roper follows her intuition. Seven years ago, she was ready to move on from her job in commercial real estate. “Keep your head and your heart open,” she said to herself one night before she went to bed. “Candles!” was the first word she thought when she woke up, so she took all her unused leave pay and devoted herself to candles. She spent three months learning to make soy wax candles and writing a marketing and business plan. Because her family had orange groves in the 1860s, she named her brand “Citrus Blossom” and began experimenting with citrus-fragranced candles. 

Roper became active in the local crafts arena, including working with Keep St. Pete Local and LocalShops1, and staffed hundreds of crafts shows. After developing 64 distinct scents, ranging from “Honeybell Tangelo” and “Figalicious” to “Plumeria in Paradise” and “Happy Farmer” (a watermelon-green apple blend), Roper opened Citrus Blossom Candles and Gifts last year in the Bayview Shopping Plaza. She had strong sales at Christmas, but then had to close for weeks in March 2020 because of the Covid-19 shutdown. The outlook was bleak until she received an email from Business Resiliency Navigator Shelli Hemans.

Hemans is the manager of the St. Pete Visitors Center & Store, and took on a navigation role when the pandemic hit. She reached out to people who had sold local goods in the shop, including Roper. Hemans connected Roper with Kerry O’Reilly, marketing director of the Tampa Bay Times. O’Reilly volunteered for the Business Resiliency Team’s “Give Us 5” program, in which professionals like coaches, accountants, marketers, and tech gurus volunteered to donate five hours to working with BRT clients.

“Kerry was great,” says Roper. “He helped me develop an updated marketing plan, and it was so useful to get an outside perspective of my business.” She adds that it also was helpful to get a man’s viewpoint because “guys buy candles and gifts too!”

One of Roper’s efforts has been making her social media marketing more intentional. She’s found that she gets increased engagement when she’s most herself, such as celebrating International Pineapple Day in June with a photo of her “Chief Security Officer,” aka her dog Rico, sniffing her “Pineapple of My Eye” candle. This supported her online sales.

Hemans also gave Roper information on funding resources. Roper eventually received Fighting Chance Funds in the third round of funding. 

Citrus Blossom reopened in May. Since then, business has been building back up slowly. She’s always expanding her offerings, including adding hand soap, room spray and sachets, as well as unusual gifts, the “kind you didn’t know you wanted until you see.” These include current best seller the “microwave cozy,” a sort of mini beanbag that keeps a coffee or tea mug warm. Roper is very mindful about her store, noting she has “no crass or sass,” and that everything has a happy, fun, vibe. 

Roper says she’s “cautiously optimistic” about the future. She’s located next to a Paul’s Chicago-Style Pizza, and she sees an increasing number of people who order pizza and then come into her air-conditioned store to browse. They then often buy while waiting for their pepperoni pickup.

Recently, of her repeat customers in the store showed how people turn to fragrance in times of stress. He came in and said, “I need another ‘Chillaxed’” (the candle is described as “a calming bamboo mixed with emotional cleansing cypress. You’ll be so laid back that you’re horizontal”). Roper hopes that from “Chillaxed” to “Florida Sunshine” (“Sure to give you a bright sunshiny day”), she can help her customers through these challenging times, “sharing happiness one candle at a time.”

Citrus Blossom Candles & Gifts is in the Bayview Shopping Plaza at 11006 4th St N, St. Petersburg, FL 33716. and online at https://www.citrusblossomcandles.com/. Follow Citrus Blossom on Facebook or Instagram.

The Business Resiliency Team was part of Grow Smarter’s COVID-19 response, and served as an emergency response team for small business from March through August. The BRT’s focus on one-on-one connections with business owners and using data as a tool for ensuring equity helped further our mission of building a stronger, inclusive, more resilient St. Petersburg. 

Navigation services have now transitioned back to the Greenhouse. If you’re in need of business navigation, or want to learn more, visit: stpetegreenhouse.com/about/navigation

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