After five years of creating “Handcrafted Goods For Happy People” at my shop, Strands of Sunshine, it’s time to move on.
In December, my husband’s job offered us the chance of a lifetime, to move to Europe for a few years. So my grand plan – operating my very first brick and mortar storefront for another five years or more – will not be. Leaving St. Petersburg, where I’ve learned so much, and made so many friends, will be bittersweet. Getting involved in the community has been a big part of my success.
Chad and I moved here from Seattle in 2013. I never expected that I’d become completely entrenched in this city in the way I have. Or that I’d become passionate about the local politics, and about the small businesses and maker movement in this community, or that I’d meet so many brilliant and hard-working people.
Not long after we arrived, I fell in love with the Central Arts District, and the funky 600 Block that we discovered during the Second Saturday ArtWalk. It was a little rough around the edges back then, so we assumed – correctly – the rents weren’t too high. My husband encouraged me to inquire about renting a small space for my jewelry-making business. It seemed like more fun than working out of my home studio – I could sell directly to customers that walked in, and hopefully make some friends along the way. I settled on a small 11×14 cubbyhole.
Realizing that I knew plenty about making jewelry and nothing about running a business, I enrolled in Entrepreneur Academy at the St. Pete Greenhouse. I learned a lot, and made some great connections that have really held up. For the past few years, I’ve been invited to visit new EA classes to speak about my experiences as a successful graduate of the program. This city is fortunate to have a great resource like the Greenhouse, and I always tell new business owners to check it out.
I became simultaneously obsessed with growing my business and getting involved in the local community. I joined the Chamber of Commerce, the Downtown Business Association, and ultimately became a board member for the organization Keep St. Petersburg Local. I attended meetings, networked, volunteered, and began to really care about the future of this city as much as I cared about the future of my business.
I was happy to work 50 or 60 hours each week, and was thrilled to see my customer base growing by leaps and bounds. I was implementing things that I learned in EA, especially from a marketing standpoint. I started a newsletter which now reaches more than 2,000 readers. At the same time, I was connecting with other local makers and realized I had created a platform that would serve to sell more than just my jewelry. I twice moved into larger storefronts on the same block, and for the past two years have been representing over 40 local artists.
Looking back, I’m glad that I started out small and grew over time. I would have been overwhelmed if I had jumped into the deep end first.
There have been growing pains for sure: Finding that elusive work-life balance, hiring the right employees, and the fear of uncertainty that comes with leasing a storefront as the city begins to boom. I’ve been lucky to find a few mentors along the way, people who have been in business longer than me to turn to with tough questions. Everyone needs a mentor! And I’ve been able to offer advice to those who are just beginning their entrepreneurial journey.
I want to keep Strands of Sunshine, it’s my baby. To that end, I’m not selling my business. I will instead transition back to what I was doing before I opened the storefront: Selling my jewelry online.
With all that I’ve learned and all the people I know here, I am sure we can return to St. Pete someday and pick up where we left off. I don’t know what this city will look like when we return, but I hope that Central Avenue is still lined with independent businesses, and that the people here are just as passionate about shopping local as they are today. Because that’s a very big part of what makes this place so special.