A Small Business Saturday festival in St. Petersburg is bigger than ever this year

The Shopapalooza Festival had 225 vendors in 2019. After a hiatus in 2020, it’s back on Thanksgiving weekend with 300 vendors.
Shoppers crowded Vinoy Park for the annual Shopapalooza Festival in 2019 where more than 225 vendors set up shop for the "local alternative to Black Friday" before the pandemic hiatus. Now the festival will return with more than 300 vendors.
Shoppers crowded Vinoy Park for the annual Shopapalooza Festival in 2019 where more than 225 vendors set up shop for the "local alternative to Black Friday" before the pandemic hiatus. Now the festival will return with more than 300 vendors. [ SARA DINATALE | Tampa Bay Times ]
Published Nov. 17, 2021|Updated Nov. 17, 2021

The Shopapalooza Festival is coming back in full force.

The St. Petersburg outdoor event, which began in 2010 support local shops during the holiday shopping season, will feature more than 300 vendors, live music, a Santa station, a Christmas village with a life-size gingerbread house and more this year.

This Small Business Saturday, or the Saturday immediately following Thanksgiving Day and Black Friday, is a chance for local businesses who were limited last year during the pandemic to reach out to the community again, said Ester Venouziou, the event organizer and founder of LocalShops1. For some, the festival is their first event since the pandemic began.

Shopapalooza will run Nov. 27 - 28 at Vinoy Park and is free for attendees.

While it’s expected to be a record holiday shopping season, according to the Florida Retail Federation, more than half of Floridians plan to shop online. Venouziou hopes Shopapalooza can help change that.

Venouziou spoke with the Tampa Bay Times about how Small Business Saturday has evolved, what new things are coming to the festival and why it matters for local businesses this year. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Related: How Tampa Bay holiday sales could get a boost from the weather

How has Small Business Saturday changed over the years from when the festival started in 2010?

The first year, Small Business Saturday wasn’t really a thing yet. American Express, which funds Small Business Saturday, dumped a lot of money into the shopping holiday and the advertising brought a ton of attention to supporting local.

Also around that time we were coming out of a recession. There were a lot of people getting laid off from their jobs, so they were thinking, ‘why am I loyal to all these big corporations that are just laying me off?’ The recession in a weird way helped small businesses. Over the years, people are more likely to support small businesses. And then St. Pete started growing and we starting to see a lot of small businesses getting priced out of downtown. So there’s a renewed interest in small businesses in some ways, but it’s tougher because a lot of them can’t afford to be downtown anymore and even the Edge District, Grand Central and all the places that used to be considered the outskirts.

How has the pandemic affected local businesses?

A lot of them completely had to change the way they do things — obviously by doing a lot more online and offering porch deliveries. They really had to shift their models. A lot of the artists stopped doing whatever they’re doing and they survived by selling masks. Some distilleries had to start making sanitizers. It was tough, but optimistic. The pandemic re-energized a lot of businesses. It forced them to rethink that model and how they do things. So now, in a way, they’re better off. But then there’s obviously a lot that just didn’t make it.

On top of that, they were trying to help the community. That’s what they do because this is where they live. In addition to trying to make it work for themselves, they’re trying to find ways to like help other people. Plus they have extra expenses with COVID-19 regulations or protections. Even for the ones doing really well, it’s been emotionally draining for everybody.

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What will this year’s festival look like?

In 2019, we had about 225 vendors. This year, we have 300. We have a lot more entertainment to get people to stay longer and have a good time. Hopefully, we’re nearing the end of the pandemic and businesses can get themselves out there again. Shopapalooza will have a little village with different Christmas trees for every country to signify world peace. In addition to the fun elements, we’re bringing together a lot of small businesses so people can support them all in one weekend.

How can local shoppers continue to support small businesses?

The goal of Shopapalooza is obviously to shop while you’re there, but we also want people to return to individual stores or websites and shop throughout the year. There’s an emotional and financial aspect to it. Financially, the businesses need to make up money for last year. And emotionally, bringing people together is part of the appeal of small businesses — it’s the personal touch.

Even with curbside pickups and porch deliveries, it’s just not the same. The festival is something people are excited to be able to do it this year. It brings back some normalcy. And in a way, before the pandemic, we took everything for granted. Now we can see what life is like being able to have that personal connection again.