Burgeoning minority and women-owned small businesses affiliated with the Saturday Shoppes will soon have brick-and-mortar space downtown, thanks to a new partnership with the St. Petersburg Area Chamber of Commerce.
Renee Edwards, founder of the Saturday Shoppes, announced that the long-discussed initiative would formally launch July 26 with a ceremonial ribbon-cutting ceremony. The St. Pete Store, located at 102 2nd Ave. N., operates in conjunction with the Chamber’s Visitor Center.
Five carefully selected market vendors will each receive 90 days to showcase their wares at the store. Edwards said the opportunity provides invaluable exposure and education on retail processes.
“This is history-making,” Edwards added. “This has never happened before. Some of these vendors have never had their products on nobody’s shelves. Ever.
“Can you imagine what that feels like?”
She explained that the five minority and women business owners must first graduate from the Saturday Shoppes Vendor Academy. The limited-seat, interactive six-week course teaches vendors how to grow their company, sales regulations and marketing.
St. Pete Store applicants must also receive Saturday Shoppes retail certification. Edwards has a set of strict criteria to ensure the products are “shelf ready.”
The selected vendors will make way for a new cohort every 90 days. However, Edwards plans to find other retail space in the city for those small businesses.
“I’m working on either Rolling Oats, Trader Joe’s or Earth Gorgeous,” she added.
The new partnership with the Chamber represents a full-circle moment for the entrepreneur. The St. Pete Store opened in November 2015, and Edwards said she sold the facility’s first Black products in 2017.
She relayed that experience provided her with around $500 monthly. Not only did that go a long way towards helping pay the bills, but – unlike selling goods at a market – Edwards didn’t have to be there to make money.
She said the initiative would help owners realize if their products are profitable and increase bookkeeping skills. Edwards believes the experience will serve as an “eye-opener.”
“Because when you’re at the market as a vendor, you can push it (goods) on somebody, and they can buy it and maybe not even want it,” she elaborated. “But when you’re not there pitching your product, can it still sell?”
The Chamber collaboration is not Edwards’ only new project to promote her vendors. She also announced her plans to start a website, everdayshoppes.com.
The website will serve as a virtual store that allows people to support Saturday Shoppes vendors outside market days. It could also significantly increase earning potential for predominantly Black small business owners.
Edwards said the platform would allow consumers across the region and beyond – she has operated Saturday Shoppes in Clearwater, Tampa, Orlando and Atlanta – to support those vendors without leaving their homes.
“For us to really be for economic development, and for me to really push my vendors and be better than just a normal market, I have to be creative,” Edwards said.
She explained that the platform would also save vendors thousands of dollars on website creation and maintenance costs. Edwards is still working on a title sponsor, possibly the Tampa Bay Rays, a longtime partner which has helped foster the Shoppes’ exponential growth.
However, she expects it to launch in August.
Her passion for helping marginalized minority and women entrepreneurs stems from shared experiences. Edwards launched the then-Saturday Morning Shoppe in April 2021 after encountering challenges with other “exclusive” markets.
With Councilmember Deborah Figgs-Sanders’ help, the nascent Shoppes went from the Bethel Community Baptist Church to taking over Tropicana Field’s sprawling parking lots in just two months. Basketball legend and business mogul Earvin “Magic” Johnson passed out Thanksgiving turkeys at the market that November.
A feature in the New York Times followed, and Edwards is not about to rest on her laurels.
“I think about how far we’ve come, but I think about how much further we need to go,” she said. “I need some of these vendors making six figures off of their products. So, I’m just basically scratching the surface on what needs to happen.”
Edwards said her goal since the Shoppes’ inception is to help vendors pay their most significant living expenses from market proceeds.
The Shoppes and Bayboro Brewing are partnering for upcoming events, and Edwards is already working on a major initiative for 2024.
Edwards plans on establishing dedicated retail stores in local malls and said those facilities, the virtual store and markets would combine to provide “real income” for 50 participating vendors.
She credited her ever-increasing growth and support to others realizing her vision’s potential.
“It means that people respect what I’m doing,” Edwards added. “And it means that the community is supporting the community – because it’s bigger than myself.”