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Shopapalooza embodies Small Business Saturday

Mark Parker



The crowd at last year's Shopapalooza. Its organizer expects around 365 small business and local creators to offer their wares this weekend. Photos provided.

Following Thanksgiving feasts, and sandwiched between Black Friday and Cyber Monday, comes a more personal shopping holiday vital to small businesses and local economies – Small Business Saturday.

St. Petersburg’s Shopapalooza, now in its 12th year, will highlight around 365 area small businesses and creators when it returns to Vinoy Park this weekend. Event organizer Ester Venouziou said the festival is a way for people to ensure their money stays in the community.

An American Express study showed that 68 cents of every dollar spent at a small business stays in the community and creates another 48 cents in area financial activity through employees and owners purchasing goods and services. The study also found that if every Gen Z and Millennial shopper spent $10 this Small Business Saturday, it would generate $2 billion in local economic activity.

Conversely, Venouziou said just 30 cents of every dollar spent at corporate outlets filters back into the community.

“It’s a staggering number,” she said. “It keeps the money flowing locally, so it’s a bigger impact. It’s not going to end up just being $10 – it’s $10 recirculating again because small businesses are more likely to spend it on other local businesses.”

Founder Ester Venouziou said she rented special furniture for a “chill” zone.

Venouziou founded LocalShops1, a business directory that hosts Shopapalooza every Thanksgiving weekend. She relayed that some brick-and-mortar business owners have expressed they depend on the expansive festival to make it through the end of the year.

While the country has emerged from the pandemic, Venouziou said many of its effects persist. She said staffing issues remain, and expenses have soared alongside historic inflation. In addition to significantly higher costs for ingredients and materials, she noted that skyrocketing rents also affect small businesses.

Local creators and companies not only endure price hikes for physical locations, explained Venouziou, but many owners also rent their homes.

“So, they’re getting hit both ways,” she added. “And they don’t want to raise their prices too much. In general, they’ve had to kind of suck it up and have a smaller profit margin on a lot of items.”

However, there are reasons for optimism. Venouziou said Shopapalooza continues growing, and she expects this weekend’s festival to be “the biggest ever.”

Although there is no good way to ascertain how many people attend the free event, she relayed that police in charge of closing the surrounding downtown streets told her their best guess was around 30,000 last year.

And, for the first time, attendees can now sip and shop as beer and wine are allowable throughout the venue. Venouziou believes that will help increase the crowds, and all proceeds from alcohol sales go to the local nonprofit Jump for Kids.

Shopapalooza is also pet-friendly.

Elizabeth Rutledge, chief marketing officer for American Express, said in a release that consumers spent over $23 billion shopping locally on Small Business Saturday last year, “and we want to exceed that in 2022.”

Buying locally, explained Venouziou, mitigates ongoing supply chain disruptions. She said offering items in small batches alleviates the need to purchase necessary supplies in bulk from out of the area or overseas.

In addition, she said the uniqueness of the items means creators can easily substitute out-of-stock materials. Venouziou relayed that many vendors experienced record sales last year, and they are hoping for a similar response with the pandemic in the rearview mirror.

“They kind of feel like it’s a little bit of their baby, too,” she said. “They started off going as shoppers when they were in high school or college, and now they have their own business.”

A popup used bookstore at last year’s festival.

In addition to goods, Venouziou noted Shopapalooza also provides food, drink and entertainment options. Mastry’s Brewing Co., 3 Daughters Brewing, Mermosa Wines and Great Bay Distributors will provide the beer and wine. The website lists 40 other vendors in four zones strategically placed throughout the waterfront park.

Musical artists and comedians take the stage beginning at 11 a.m. on both days, and activity and kids zones – which offer free photos with Santa and Mrs. Claus – also run all weekend. Jump For Kids is not the only nonprofit benefitting from the festival, as Venouziou expects to present the St. Pete Youth Farm with a $10,000 donation after the event.

Shopapalooza is co-sponsored by the City of St. Petersburg, and Venouziou expressed her gratitude to the Parks and Recreation Department for supporting the festival from its inception. The event takes place Saturday and Sunday from 10 a.m. until 5 p.m. in Vinoy Park, at 701 Bayshore Dr. NE. Venouziou noted a free trolley transports patrons to and from the Sundial parking garage.

“But people need to remember to shop locally the entire year,” she said. “It’s not just about a weekend.”

For more information on Shopapalooza, visit the website here.




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