Click the arrow to listen to the full interview with Keep St. Pete Local’s Olga Bof and Catalyst publisher Joe Hamilton.
“Keep St. Pete local” has become a mantra for the St. Petersburg small business community. Local restaurants, shops, breweries and artists are behind the magic, the funk, that special flavor that is St. Pete. But that magic doesn’t preserve itself. As big box stores have closed and Amazon has been crowned king of retail, Olga Bof has been a tireless advocate of St. Pete’s local businesses. This week marked eight years since Bof founded Keep St. Petersburg Local (KSPL), a small, independent business advocacy organization working to keep the St. Pete vibe alive.
Bof joined St. Pete Catalyst Publisher Joe Hamilton in the studio to talk about the state of small business and how to walk the talk of keeping St. Pete local.
“We’re always going to be a force for positivity,” said Bof. “What we were able to do to date is to tie growth back to local. When we talked about, isn’t St. Pete amazing? we were always sharing stories about why it was. When the press did it, they were talking about our local businesses,” she explained.
That positivity and those local stories have had some unintended consequences, according to Bof. “Newer residents and developers saw that and came here precisely because of that. Now, they’re impacting our landscape.” Impact has come in the form of more developments, turnover of buildings to new owners, and higher rents. All of which have had a significant impact on small business, forcing some businesses to relocate and others to close up shop altogether; impacts the City of St. Petersburg has attempted to blunt with its Storefront Conservation Corridor program.
According to Bof, things may get worse before they get better. “This coming year, when all of those ground floor retail spots fill in from these developments, we’re probably going to see a lot of local businesses close,” she explained. “Unless the community steps up and supports them.”
The number one thing residents can do to Keep St. Pete Local, she said, is to buy local. “One of the biggest opportunities for you to support local is during the holidays.” The holiday season is one of the biggest seasons for local, independent retailers. It can be a make-or-break time for those businesses surviving payroll to payroll.
“Rather than shopping Amazon because of the convenience that it’s going to show up on our doorstep, or even using local business as your window-shopping opportunity, where you shop a price, but then you order on Amazon, we’d rather you think about what those businesses mean to this city and support them.”
Bof and Hamilton discuss the endemic problem of rising rents in cities throughout the country and how St. Pete should deal with the problem. They discuss the westward trend of business and the possibilities the Warehouse Arts District holds for business expansion south of Central Avenue with arts, distilleries, breweries and more in the works.
Bof also shares Keep St. Petersburg Local’s upcoming events, and the local business directory on her new website, launched Nov. 19.
Browse KSPL’s business directory here.