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Localtopia 2024 was a resounding success

Mark Parker

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Several Localtopia stakeholders said Saturday's festival attracted significantly more people than the 2023 event, which drew an estimated 50,000 attendees. Photos by Mark Parker.

An estimated 60,000 people descended upon Williams Park in downtown St. Petersburg for the 11th annual Localtopia festival Saturday, likely setting a new record.

The free one-day event, organized by the nonprofit Keep St. Petersburg Local, highlights the small businesses, creatives and community organizations that make the city unique. Several of Localtopia’s over 300 vendors stressed the festival’s importance to their livelihoods.

Localtopia continues to grow, and crowds packed surrounding streets to patronize food trucks and beverage tents. Olga Bof, founder of Keep St. Petersburg Local, separated vendors into art, horticulture, wellness and family activity “villages” inside Williams Park. Its historic bandshell featured live music throughout the day.

“It’s a local vibe,” Bof said. “Our vendors will tell you – the community is so happy and kind, and they have such validation that day that they really don’t get at any other event.”

Event organizers split Williams Park into “villages.”

Localtopia is open to the public, and Bof relies on the city to provide estimated attendance numbers. While that remains unannounced, an official told her there were “way more people” than the 2023 event, which attracted 50,000 people.

Many vendors rely on Localtopia to spread much-needed awareness. Ken Burchenal, owner of the Jack Kerouac House of St. Petersburg, said most of his money goes into maintaining the historic home once owned by the famed novelist and poet.

Burchenal noted that the nonprofit lacks the advertising budget to reach the tens of thousands of people who stopped by his Localtopia booth. He hosts various events at the Kerouac House and hopes to provide more of a community resource, a goal aided by Saturday’s foot traffic.

“Just as a human being, this is more people than I’ve seen in a long time,” Burchenal said. “An awful lot of people just stop and wonder, ‘What’s up with this?’ And so, we get to give them the spiel.”

Ken Burchenal (right) and William Provost used the event to highlight the St. Petersburg Kerouac House.

Bof compared Localtopia to a business incubator. She counts Mother Kombucha as one of the event’s greatest success stories.

Bof said the St. Pete-based beverage maker started with a six-foot table at the first Localtopia. Mother Kombucha is now found on grocery store shelves nationwide.

“Mighty trees can grow from acorns,” Bof said. “It (Localtopia) gives makers the validation that maybe they can leave their full-time gig …”

Erica Ferguson, founder of Artists on a Roll, hosts painting parties throughout the area. Saturday marked her fourth year at Localtopia, and she called it “the busiest, for sure.”

She credited Bof’s promotional efforts for an outpouring of support and said her drawing station was a hit with children. “I mean, what a vibe,” Ferguson added.

Erica Ferguson, founder of Artists on a Roll, provided a drawing station for kids at the event.

Annie Johnson, founder of St. Pete Seahorse, said Localtopia helped reestablish her community presence after taking a year-long hiatus to recover from a severe car accident. She handed out over 200 cards advertising her antique printing press business.

“Olga (Bof) has been spectacular in organizing – I don’t know how she does it,” Johnson said. “One person is crazy.”

Over 200 volunteers contributed to Localtopia’s success. Bof stressed their importance and said Localtopia stakeholders overwhelmingly acknowledged their “brilliant” efforts.

She also noted that the event is more than “just a market” or festival. “There’s really palpable magic that day,” Bof added.

She noted that Localtopia is one of the few annual events where residents and visitors can walk closed downtown streets with a locally brewed beer. Bof said it also transforms St. Peterburg’s oldest park into a community gathering space, as the city’s founders intended.

“We would never move Localtopia,” Bof said. “Because the magic happens there – at Williams Park. I think that’s what keeps them coming back.”

While work remains from this year’s Localtopia, Bof said Keep St. Peterburg Local is already planning for the 2025 event. She said organizers are now discerning what worked and areas for improvement.

They must also select a date and submit an application to the city, which co-sponsors Localtopia, by the end of March. Bof said many stakeholders are also looking forward to next year’s festival, and some compared it to a holiday in recent messages.

“I nearly cried when I saw that,” she said. “It’s all about that local love that day that I don’t think … other events necessarily communicate. It’s just a very different experience from any other event.”

The “Nomad Bus” parked along one of the multiple streets city officials closed for Localtopia.

 

 

 

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2 Comments

2 Comments

  1. Avatar

    Donna Kostreva

    February 26, 2024at11:33 pm

    I’m happy that 60,000 people had fun.Thousands of others suffered dangerous driving conditions on Third Street South and cross streets due to the ineptitude of whomever is in charge of traffic. The stop lights remained as normal while unmarked traffic cones tried to close lanes from four to two, merging the multitudes, then forcing them left or right into further gridlock. Move this event to Tropicana field, and hire some traffic engineers with brains.

  2. Avatar

    Danny E White

    February 26, 2024at5:10 pm

    What a Herculean job!

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