ST. PETERSBURG — Annemarie Thomczyk threw an ax nine times at a dartboard Saturday morning in a trailer at Vinoy Park. It would not stick to the target.
On her last shot, the 14-year-old looked at the target and took a breath. She pulled the ax over her head and released it forward. The ax landed above the bullseye, stuck to the board and her family members cheered.
Ashley Grover said she launched Grover’s Axe, her mobile ax-throwing business, in August, and drove the trailer across the Sunshine Skyway Bridge from Bradenton to make it to the Shopapalooza Festival and get her name out there in the community.
The festival, a large-scale Small Business Saturday event in St. Petersburg, returned this weekend after being canceled last year due to the pandemic.
And this time, Shopapalooza is bigger than ever.
In 2019 — the last time the event was hosted — there were 225 vendors. This year, Shopapalooza came back with more than 300 vendors, said Ester Venouziou, event organizer and founder of LocalShops1, a local business directory. All the businesses featured are run by Florida locals and about 80 percent are based in the greater Tampa Bay area.
Shopapalooza began in 2010, with about 25 shops when Small Business Saturday was a new concept. In the last decade, the festival has grown alongside the popularity of the shopping holiday, a celebration of small and local businesses created as a counter to Black Friday.
The festival has plenty of stuff typically seen at a holiday market: home decor, artisan crafts, food trucks, eco-friendly clothing, live performances, photos with Santa and more.
But there’s also a place to hug a skunk, have a portrait done by a sketch artist, speak with a local real estate agent and check out a mini bookstore with hundreds of donated books for a dollar.
Shopapalooza runs from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday at Vinoy Park and is free.
While the point of the festival is for people to shop directly at the event, Venouziou said another part of the event is to get people re-engaged with local businesses.
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About a quarter of Floridians are expected to shop local during the holiday season, according the the Florida Retail Federation. The national branch representing retailers expects 58.1 million shoppers in the country to go out for Small Business Saturday.
For Whitney Goodnight, who makes hair-accessories “for babies to ladies,” the festival will be the first time she’ll see some of her customers in person. The pandemic pretty much halted her business, Daisy Kaysie Boutique, and giving birth recently also slowed things down.
“This is the biggest event I do,” Goodnight said.
She said she was excited not only to see familiar faces again, but also to be able to make new connections.
Monica Guerrero, a Tampa potter and illustrator, also was excited to interact with people. Guerrero launched Designs by Moni this year after taking lots of free classes on how to start a business online. Typically, she would hand her art to a gallery, which would take care of much of the business side, including selling. Starting her own brand is a lot more work, but she said it’s great to see people react.
Lynn Cannella handed her card to Autumn Angel, a Native American who brought her handmade work from her studio in Pinellas Park. Cannella, a legal professional, came to the festival to support local businesses and find something to alleviate the stress of her job. She bought a smudge stick, or dried herbs burned in the indigenous tradition to invite positive energy, from Angel.
While dreamcatchers are Angel’s most popular product at festivals, she said it’s a great place to start talking about indigenous practices. Angel is from the Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians, a native nation in Michigan.
“It’s good exposure and a chance to teach people about spirituality and Native American traditions,” Angel said.
Amber Peters, 26, of St. Petersburg, said it was great to see the community come together to support one another. As she looked at terracotta potted plants sold in view of the St. Pete Pier, she said she not only shops local on Small Business Saturday, but as much as she can every day.
“We don’t need to be supporting billionaires,” Peters said. “This is our community. And these are our neighbors. It’s what makes St. Pete, St. Pete.”
Her next stop after Shopapalooza? Central Avenue, for another Small Business Saturday event.