St. Pete Localtopia celebrates power of buying local

Local businesses are the backbone of St. Petersburg, where there is a strong community commitment to enthusiastically support local entrepreneurs, makers, artists and innovators. This culture of supporting local runs strong during Localtopia, St. Pete’s largest “community celebration of all things local.”

This year’s Localtopia was the biggest festival yet. Over 25,000 residents and tourists discovered and supported St. Pete’s local businesses while strolling through Williams Park in Downtown St. Pete on a recent Saturday.

“Localtopia is our anniversary celebration. It's also our gift to St. Pete,” says Olga Bof, founder of Keep Saint Petersburg Local, the nonprofit organization that hosted Localtopia. “Let's take the best of what St. Pete is between its businesses, community organizations, what you eat and drink here, what you can do here, its music and put that at Localtopia.”

Keep Saint Petersburg Local is St. Pete’s Independent Business Alliance dedicated to building a thriving local economy and a growing community that is excited about supporting local businesses in St. Pete. The nonprofit works with locally owned, independent businesses to raise awareness about the importance of buying and being local.

Localtopia contributes to the pride and dedication that the St. Pete community has for supporting local businesses. 

The festival has an “inclusive atmosphere that’s unique to St. Pete,” says Joe Hamilton, one of the founders of St. Pete Threads, an organization that supports the St. Pete community through branded products.

“Localtopia gives a tangible sense of community. It gives a framework within which people can come together. It's a perfect example of that,” says Hamilton, whose company was one of more than 200 vendors at Localtopia. “Keep Saint Petersburg Local is a great force, even beyond just Localtopia. The community is referring to each other and supporting each other. Keep St. Pete Local is powerful year-round. This is more of a celebration of a whole year's worth of awesomeness.”

St. Pete Threads is a passion project of Big Sea, a St. Pete-based digital creative marketing agency that designs and develops websites. St. Pete Threads takes pride in giving 50 percent of its net profits back to the nonprofit organizations that make the St. Pete community great.

Deana Hawk, one of the owners of Black Crow Coffee and Indian Shores Coffee, was also impressed with how many new businesses were showcased at Localtopia and how people are excited to be connecting with local business owners.

“We have an amazing city that is bursting with creativity and individuality. Localtopia for the last five years has been showcasing that,” says Hawk, who was a vendor at Localtopia for the first time this year and has attended the festival since its inception. “It's important to keep those roots in our community so that we don't get big britches and lose our sense of originality.”

Families with children danced around in front of the bandstand, where local musicians performed. People walked around Williams Park drinking beers and beverages from local breweries. Some attendees were sprawled out on massage chairs enjoying acupuncture sessions and therapeutic massages at the health & wellness village.

From a food truck rally alley to the makers & merchants village, each of 10 Localtopia villages showcased different businesses that make up St. Pete. While locals had the chance to discover new businesses in the area, vendors raised awareness about their businesses and connected with locals. 

“I've never seen a town with so much pride in local things and local makers and using their money with smaller companies and smaller businesses,” says Kim Vorperian, owner of Bodhi Basics, which sells handcrafted organic body products. “I've lived in a lot of places and carried Bodhi Basics with me through a lot of different towns. There is no other event that I've ever seen like this that gets so much support. People are so excited to come out and put their money where their home is and their heart is.”

Vorperian has been selling her natural skincare and body products at Localtopia every year since its first festival in 2014, alongside vendors like Jamie O’Berry at O’Berry’s Succulents and Illene Sofranko at The Urban Canning Company.
Through its events like Localtopia, Keep Saint Petersburg Local demonstrates how St. Pete is passionate about supporting local businesses and buying local.

“The character of this town is built on small businesses. If you go around Downtown St. Pete, it's hard to find a chain business,” says Kenneth Hoyumpa, CEO and co-founder of Grassroots Kava House, which was a Localtopia vendor. “Small businesses can really make a difference and bring people together.”

Grassroots Kava House offers a unique experience to drink kava, which is a traditional drink from the south Pacific. St. Pete’s first kava bar opened in early January.

Grassroots Kava House is a member of the Keep Saint Petersburg Local’s online directory, which is a community of local entrepreneurs and business owners that are motivated to strengthen St. Pete’s economy and maintain the uniqueness of the local community.

Keep Saint Petersburg Local sums up why it’s best to support local in its slogan. It is because “community matters.”

“You vote every single day with your dollars for what you want to see in the world and who you want to see control it,” says Bof. “When you buy from locals, they are your family, friends and neighbors and you are helping them make or keep their dreams alive by doing what they do. They are our community and community matters.”
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Read more articles by Zebrina Edgerton-Maloy.

Zebrina Edgerton-Maloy is a freelance multimedia journalist based in Tampa. She earned her BA in Journalism from Washington and Lee University in May 2016. Zebrina is also a social media specialist and content writer for startup companies and small businesses. She helps build their brand through social media management and creates their brand story through content writing. She is constantly motivated by Tampa Bay's entrepreneurial spirit. Zebrina is dedicated to share entrepreneurs' stories of grit, passion and innovation. Learn more at her website and follow her on Instagram or Twitter @zebrinaemaloy.