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Thursday, Jun 21, 2018
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Small businesses aim to build relationships, shift customers’ habits

ST. PETERSBURG — Avid shoppers didn’t get up in the wee hours Saturday morning to rush the doors of downtown St. Petersburg’s locally-owned shops.

Many of those who meandered into jewelry boutiques advertising 30 percent off emerged with only a paper gift bag rather than handfuls of plastic bags overflowing with merchandise.

For local merchants who participated in Saturday’s small business alternative to Black Friday, that’s success.

“I think that it’s successful when, at the end of the day, we have new clients,” said Paige Crider, who offered discounts on swimsuits and sweaters Friday and Saturday at her Cerulean Blu boutique just off of Beach Drive.

That means helping women find just the right bathing suit; something that requires a more personal touch, Crider said.

“Our store is definitely more about our relationships than just numbers.”

The Small Business Saturday campaign started by American Express in 2010 has been a springboard for local business owners who hope to divert some of the frantic post-Thanksgiving spending away from malls, big box stores and websites.

The credit card company advertises the annual event and offers discounts on purchases at small businesses.

Actor Kevin Bacon even has come out with a quirky online video this year that promotes another effort called Shift Your Shopping for Good, highlighting the assertion that shopping local bolsters the local economy rather than distant companies.

Small business owners are more interested in shifting customers’ habits than in big after-Thanksgiving sales.

“The message we’d like to get out there is it’s not a one-day event; it should be a daily occurrence,” said Olga Bof of the Keep Saint Petersburg Local business alliance.

While many art galleries and shops on Central Avenue’s 600 block and in the Warehouse Arts District announced holiday discounts Friday and Saturday, Shapiro’s Gallery on Beach Drive kept the same prices it offers year-round for a variety of jewelry, pottery and other high-quality handicrafts.

“I would rather price everything fair every day rather than inflate the price then mark it down 15 percent to bring it down to where it should be in the first place,” owner Mike Shapiro said.

“I need people to understand the value of handmade in America all year long.”

Shapiro, though, says Small Business Saturday and the efforts of local groups have helped his sales both during the holidays and throughout the year.

The ‘shop local’ spirit has spread to communities throughout Pinellas County, from Gulfport to Tarpon Springs.

A long-running arts festival in Tarpon Springs on Saturday and Sunday helps boost sales at the tourist shops along the Sponge Docks and the antique stores downtown, chamber of commerce President Sue Thomas said.

“This is money that’s staying here. It’s not going overseas,” she said.

Black Friday was better for merchants on Central’s 600 block this year than in 2012, and Saturday seemed to be on the same track by the afternoon, said Amy Marshall, owner of the Strands of Sunshine jewelry store on Sixth Street North.

At least one family that buys her handmade earrings and necklaces has a rule that gifts either must be made by the giver or handmade locally, owner and artist Amy Marshall said.

“You’re seeing more and more people realize the added value of shopping local,” she said.

“It’s increasing little by little.”

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