For five burgeoning minority and women small business owners affiliated with the Saturday Shoppes, seeing their wares on shelves in a brick-and-mortar store was the culmination of a lifelong dream.
That was a common refrain Wednesday evening at the St. Petersburg Area Chamber of Commerce’s downtown headquarters. Five carefully selected market vendors will each receive 90 days to showcase their wares at the St. Pete Store, 100 2nd Avenue N. It is the retail arm of the Chamber’s Visitor Center.
Many founders said they never imagined that dozens of community and local government leaders would help them celebrate the moment.
Renee Edwards-Perry, founder of the Saturday Shoppes, has long sought to facilitate additional revenue streams and learning experiences for her vendors.
Chris Steinocher, president and CEO of the Chamber, told attendees that it was an opportunity to highlight how “everyone in St. Pete has a chance to be a creator” and that “everyone in St. Pete can show how good they are.”
“There are so many people that don’t get an opportunity to show their products, their services, for so many reasons,” Steinocher said. “They haven’t always had the best breaks, and what they are really looking for is opportunity.
“We just want to show that there is good in everybody. Everybody in this room.”
Yolanda Elijah, founder of Yolé the Brand, is part of the first cohort. She has made clothing for nearly five years and spent most of that time vending with Edwards-Perry.
Elijah said Edwards-Perry taught her “how to be a real business” and, with the right approach and presentation, that people would support her efforts. When asked if she envisioned local leaders helping her celebrate a ribbon cutting, Elijah succinctly said, “No, never.”
“I had dreams – this was not one of them,” Elijah added. “But the universe gave it to me. I just want to cry.”
Mayor Ken Welch credited the Chamber and city staff for supporting oft-marginalized small business owners through several initiatives. He said the entrepreneurs embodied the American dream by creating value and income from an idea.
Welch called Edwards-Perry a “catalyst” for inclusive progress and opportunity. He also credited her for “speaking the language of government and translating that to business owners, who are focused on their product or service.”
Edwards-Perry started the Shoppes in April 2021 after encountering challenges with other markets. She then sought to mitigate those impediments for people in similar situations.
With Councilmember Deborah Figgs-Sanders’ help, the nascent Shoppes moved from a church to Tropicana Field in two months.
Rapid expansion followed, and Edwards-Perry noted that she and Steinocher are now working to put vendor goods in local retailers like Rolling Oats and Trader Joe’s.
“This has been a long time coming to start to put my vendors in different locations,” Edwards-Perry said. “This is heartfelt today for you guys to support them and for them to be on the shelf tomorrow.”
Figgs-Sanders said she received the “easiest ‘yes’” to date from Steinocher when they approached him with the idea. She also noted that the city administration embraced the Shoppes and its goal.
She credited Edwards-Perry for overcoming myriad objections and putting others before personal goals. “It only took that one ‘yes,’ and look at how many doors have been opened,” Figgs-Sanders said.
“This is what you call collaboration. This is what you call support.”
The selected vendors must first graduate from the Saturday Shoppes Vendor Academy and receive retail certification to ensure products are “shelf ready.” While the entrepreneurs will make way for another cohort in 90 days, Edwards-Perry plans to find other retail space and launch an e-commerce website for vendors.
The St. Pete Store opened with 21 creators in November 2015. While he said “there is nothing wrong with Taiwan,” Steinocher wanted visitors to buy locally-made goods.
He also noted the event represented a full-circle moment for Edwards-Perry. Her ribbon-cutting at the facility came in 2017 when she sold the St. Pete Store’s first Black-made products.
Steinocher now anticipates watching her mentees follow a similar trajectory. “This is what it’s all about,” he said.
The five businesses and owners include:
- Ed Brunson, founder of Brun Rub
- Courtney Miller, founder of Passion Geeks
- Nancy Gamble, founder of Madam Naka’s Emporium
- Shera Gray, founder of Body Polished
- Yolanda Elijah, founder of Yolé the Brand
For more information on the St. Pete Store and Visitors Center, visit the website here.