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Congresswoman rallies for St. Pete small businesses

Mark Parker



Congresswoman Kathy Castor (center) and several small business owners and stakeholders gathered Tuesday morning to encourage residents to shop locally this holiday season. Photos by Mark Parker.

U.S. Rep Kathy Castor credited St. Petersburg leaders and residents for their intentional efforts to support small businesses; she also stressed the importance of shopping locally this holiday season.

Castor and several small business owners and stakeholders gathered downtown Tuesday morning at The Merchant on Central Avenue. The self-described “funky, urban general store and gift shop” offers items from over 80 local artisans, makers and craftspeople.

The Merchant operates inside the Crislip Arcade, which opened in 1926. The open-air passageway between city blocks still offers small, typically more affordable spaces for burgeoning businesses nearly a century later.

“Is there any better place in the world to talk about small businesses than St. Petersburg?” Castor asked. “As you walk the streets of St. Petersburg, you don’t see a lot of chains and big boxes. That’s because years ago, this community made it a priority to support each other.”.

The Crislip Arcade still houses locally owned businesses nearly 100 years after it opened.

She said the community-first approach fostered a unique downtown and surrounding business districts. However, Castor noted that soaring inflation and property insurance rates now jeopardize local livelihoods.

The congresswoman representing both sides of Tampa Bay said a “difficult” summer season exacerbated a challenging fiscal year. Castor explained that shopping at small businesses benefits local owners, employees and residents, as over two-thirds of every dollar recirculates throughout the community.

Conversely, she said most money spent online and at big-box chains leaves the area and lines stakeholders’ pockets. Jose Martinez, president of the downtown business association, said just 6 cents of every dollar given to conglomerates stays in the city.

Jennifer Schultz, owner of The Merchant, said she and her colleagues are more likely to shop at local businesses. An American Express study showed that 68 cents of every dollar spent at a small business remains in the area and creates another 48 cents in local economic activity.

“People come here, and that want to move here because they see these awesome businesses and shops that are here every day,” Schultz said.

She noted city officials reinvest local sales taxes into public benefits like parks and schools. While Schultz called that a “beautiful economic cycle,” she also worries about the decrease in foot traffic.

“So, we’re really putting out a call to action for our locals to come this holiday weekend, which is Small Business Saturday,” Schultz said. “It’s supposed to be the brick-and-mortar weekend … when we get out of the red, and we get into the green.”

The Merchant, at 645 Central Ave, offers items from over 80 local artisans, makers and craftspeople.

The American Express study underscored Schultz’s sentiment. It found that if every Gen Z and Millennial shopper dedicated $10 to Small Business Saturday, they would generate $2 billion in local economic impacts.

Roger Curlin, executive director of the Edge Business District Association, stressed the importance of collaboration among St. Pete small businesses and residents. He said the recent Halloween on Central event highlighted the city’s focus on “experiential entrepreneurism.”

He said over 300 businesses in the Grand Central and Edge Districts partnered for an event that drew more than 100,000 people to the temporarily car-free stretch of Central Avenue. Curlin called that statistic “amazing,” considering the city’s population is just under 280,000.

He said many owners doubled and tripled typical revenues that weekend. Curlin said the common denominator was an outpouring of community support.

Curlin hopes to see that momentum continue through Small Business Saturday and beyond the holiday season. He and his colleagues urged consumers to start in one area and shop their way throughout the city’s various, unique districts.

“That is what St. Pete is about,” Curlin said. “We care about each other. We don’t compete with each other – we lift each other up.”




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