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Expo means exposure for area entrepreneurs

(ran PAS edition)

Tonie and Chris Waters would like to spend their days giving carriage rides and tending to their teams of draft horses.

Spreading the word about their business, Viking Hitch Farms, takes more time than they'd ever dreamed, though.

"There's a lot to marketing your idea, sending out pamphlets and packets," Tonie Waters said. "It keeps us going seven days a week."

The couple hope to get a promotional boost, along with dozens of other area businesses, at the Land O'Lakes Chamber of Commerce Business Expo, which begins Friday and continues Saturday.

Viking Hitch, named for Tonie Waters' Scandinavian heritage, provides hayrides, wedding carriages, dove releases and "anything else a horse and carriage can do," she said.

Viking Hitch will give free carriage rides at the business expo, to be held at the recreation complex on Collier Parkway.

"Once people see what we can do, we have no trouble getting booked for events," Tonie Waters said. "I think the more technological the world becomes, the more people want to go back to a simpler time."

The expo, which includes entertainment and a "Taste of the Towne," is a good way to remind people to support local shops and merchants, said Marjorie Walsh, executive director of the chamber.

"You don't have to go to downtown Tampa to get what you need," she said. "We want people to see what's available in and around this community."

Judy Stump, owner of Beauty Court, will offer free massages at the expo. She also plans to show off her salon's hair-imaging computer system, which overlays hundreds of hair styles and colors onto a photograph of the client.

"You know exactly what a certain color or length is going to look like on you," she said. "You never get a bad haircut."

With her salon stuck in the middle of road work at U.S. 41 and State Road 54, Stump said she can use the extra publicity from the business expo.

"I picked up a lot of new clients at last year's show," she said. "We had a good crowd. We were playing the macarena and dancing all day."

Walsh said the event is not meant to be "strictly business."

A mixer for businesses that participate will precede the expo. A number of booths will offer demonstrations or free services, she said.

"We'll have country music and line dancing," she said. "We also have a number of exhibitors with things for kids. We want parents to know what's available for them too."