We live in a society where a majority of the population shops at mainstream businesses. For this reason, it's sometimes difficult for local businesses to flourish. It's also more time consuming for shoppers to discover and experience smaller-scale, mom-and-pop shops that offer a more personalized experience, as well as familiarity.
Big box stores have local businesses outmatched when it comes to convenience — a concern relevant to central Pinellas, one of the Tampa Bay area's most chain store-congested areas. Convenience helps explain why most shoppers overlook the fact that some corporations' — such as Walmart — annual sales exceed $400 billion, while local businesses offer the same services and are struggling to stay afloat.
One problem is that finding these alternatives isn't always easy. This is where a promising new program comes into play: The Pinellas Park/Gateway Chamber of Commerce has partnered with the City of Pinellas Park and LocalShops1 to launch the "Buy Local Pinellas Park" program in an effort to promote and grow the local economy. The program, which kicked off on Aug. 15, is effective immediately.
"The Buy Local Pinellas Park program is open to existing chamber members that fit our criteria, as well as businesses in Pinellas Park that are not yet chamber members," said Ester Venouziou, founder and president of LocalShops1. "Membership is open to retail shops, restaurants, service providers, and home-based businesses."
According to a press release that came out on Aug. 15, chamber president Jon Farris said:
"After evaluating the different programs available to promote and grow our local economy, we could not find a more beneficial and exceptional opportunity than LocalShops1. With this partnership, we are confident that the diverse businesses in Pinellas Park will be highlighted in a way, regionally, that will showcase all the incredible businesses located here."
For four years, Localshops1 has been an active voice for local businesses. It supports a range of establishments from retail and pet services to home and auto. Small, local businesses often don't have the means, or funding, to promote themselves. With a service like LocalShops1, networking events are offered for free. Services include co-op advertising, free news and events distribution, social media sites, and other cross-promotional events and programs.
"Through our website, we give businesses a great platform in which to promote themselves. Members get five to 10 of their own pages, in which they can upload videos, blogs, photos and more," Venouziou said. "They also have free access to post their news and events, which we repost, and free online networking tools."
LocalShops1's mission is to advocate, promote and offer support to companies throughout the Tampa Bay area.
"It's all about bringing businesses together, so that collectively they become stronger, but individually they still grow and prosper," Venouziou said.
But what does that mean for buyers? Apart from the obvious, which is supporting a growing business and learning about a cool new shop or service.
Discounts, of course! And plenty of them. LocalShops1 has the exclusive 1Card discount program, which gives shoppers discounts and freebies for about 300 local businesses. The various discounts range from 10-20 percent off to 2-4-1 deals. The 1Card never expires, and all customers have to do is present it at participating businesses.
"One of our most recent offers is a salon in St. Pete, Secret Expressions, that offers half-off hair coloring services AND a free haircut," Venouziou said.
Other offers include discounted massages, recycling services, artwork, home construction, car dealership services, and marketing/promotion services.
LocalShops1 also offers contests and giveaways to encourage local shopping. Most notably, the annual Shopapalooza (a local alternative to Black Friday), which takes place Nov. 17 along the St. Pete waterfront. During this event, participating businesses are encouraged to offer Black Friday-type deals. In addition to the low prices and hassle-free shopping, food, music, entertainment and prizes are offered.
"We are lucky to have so many amazing businesses in the area," Venouziou said.