Tampa had its annual “invasion” the weekend before last, and this Saturday, it’s St. Petersburg’s turn.
Tens of thousands are expected to descend on Williams Park and surrounding streets for the 9th annual Localtopia festival, which invades downtown every February with hundreds of St. Pete vendors, makers and creators, plus live music and other entertainment, food trucks and more.
The only thing Localtopia doesn’t have is a pirate ship.
“Gasparilla is about 10 times the size of Localtopia,” observed Olga Bof, founder and president of the nonprofit Keep St. Pete Local, and therefore the founder and executive director of Localtopia. “It has no high purpose to it, apart from throwing and catching plastic beads … but Localtopia is actually an economic stimulus for over 300 of our favorite local businesses.”
Beads or no beads, Localtopia is the best-attended event of the year in St. Pete. The 2020 edition attracted more than 30,000 people, and last year’s Localtopia, despite a plethora of county and city-mandated Covid restrictions (including mask mandates and a pre-set cap on admissions) was a tremendous success.
“For a lot of vendors, last year was their record sales day,” Bof said. “They had been through a year of the pandemic. Many of them had not had the opportunity to sell their wares for nearly a year. So the community heeded the call that it was important.
“And I’m always going to be about quality over quantity. I will always want folks there who are all about supporting the vendors rather than just kind of doing a look-see or a pass through of an event that’s basically telling you ‘What’s here is the best of St. Pete, and you need to support it if you want it to stick around.’
“So if Gasparilla can take place and no one bats an eyelid, then we can put on Localtopia for the greater good. That’s my rationale.”
It costs approximately $100,000 annually to make Localtopia a reality. This time around, producers had a little extra in the coffer: A $25,000 grant from the Pinellas Tourist Development Council.
Bof sometimes finds herself having to explain that Localtopia is not some little streetcorner craft market. “It’s not a market, it’s a festival, and it literally encapsulates what St. Pete is,” she’ll tell people.
All the restrictions have been lifted for ’22 – masks are not required (the choice is yours), and there’s no fencing around the festival footprint, which was required in 2021 to ensure visitors only entered through monitored checkpoints. There is no cap on attendance.
Because Localtopia continues to grow, there will be more street closures this year.
The festival, Olga Bof contends, will never get “too big.” Keep St. Pete Local has never even considered leaving Williams Park, which has been the center of community activity in downtown since the turn of the (20th) century.
“This event would not be the same event anywhere but Williams Park and its surrounding streets, which has always been our home,” she explained. “It wouldn’t feel the same, it wouldn’t look the same, and I don’t think the community would respond to it in the same way if it ever moved.”
Localtopia takes place 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 12. Localtopia website.