Life and politics from the Sunshine State's best city

St. Pete Store pumps $4,000 into arts community in its first month

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Results are in and the newly opened St. Pete Store exceeded opening-month expectation. The Chamber of Commerce-run store featuring locally produced trinkets brought in more than $6,600 in its first 30-days.

That means $4,000 went back into the hands of local artists. The store shares 60 percent of its proceeds with artists who stock the store using just 40 percent for its operating costs.

The store was created as a brick-and-mortar, one-stop shop where tourists could nab some souvenirs while gathering info on how to best enjoy the Sunshine City. It was meant as a step outside traditional tourist buys like snow globes and coffee mugs and instead offers items that better represent St. Pete’s thriving arts community.

The shelves in the store directly across the street from Sundial are stocked with T-shirts printed by locals, wine glasses hand painted by Practically Pikasso, magnets and postcards featuring local photography, and handcrafted jewelry made by St. Pete residents.

The store plans to rotate stock every quarter to give as many artists in St Pete as possible the opportunity to pedal their wares outside of traditional local markets. Right now there are about 40 artists features.

Kristina Alspaw, the store’s primary creator, hopes to double that number eventually.

Artists are selected by a jury of city stakeholders each specializing in a key component for the store’s success. John Collins with the Arts Alliance makes sure the right artists are being tapped. Lexi Plumber with the Home Shopping Network looks at the retail side of things and what merchandise will create the best mix for consumers. Then there’s those who specialize in marketing also adding to the store’s success.

But the group found a shocking trend in its first month. They expected the vast majority of sales to come from visitors. Instead, Alspaw said the majority of their opening month traffic was generated by locals.

“Location is a huge part of that,” Alspaw said noting that the store gets a lot of traffic from people just walking by.

Locals can buy things for friends or family visiting from out of town. And many just really dig the local art. The store’s best-selling merch is a shirt created by Chad Mize that lists St. Pete among major cities like London, New York and Tokyo.

And she said there is still room for a ton of growth. The Chamber is looking into creating welcome baskets locals can purchase for visitors. And they work hard on referring companies or other buyers looking to buy St. Pete swag in bulk directly to the artists.

The whole idea stemmed from one bag that’s available for purchase in the store. It’s a large burlap handbag that can be used as a tote or even a diaper bag created from old coffee bags by Danielle LeTendre, co-owner of the Local Coop in downtown St. Pete’s Crislip Arcade. The inside is lined with old billboards and there are several St. Pete-specific sayings written on the outside. Some only say I Love St. Pete with the love instead being a heart. Another version has an image of Florida with a heart over St. Pete’s location in the state.

Alspaw owns one of these bags and it’s what gave her the idea for the St. Pete Store.

She said she saw it at one event, but didn’t buy it. Later, she saw it again at another event and decided she had to have it. But she realized that had it not been for various markets where artists sell their goods, she wouldn’t have known where to find it. St. Pete Store gives artists who don’t have one a storefront in which to feature their goods.

The Chamber will choose new artists for the store some time at the beginning of February. Artists interested can apply on the Chamber’s St. Pete Store website. The only major qualification is that the artist lives in St. Pete.

Janelle Irwin has been a professional journalist covering local news and politics in the Tampa Bay area since 2003. She also hosts a weekly political talk show on WMNF Community radio. Janelle formerly served as the sole staff reporter for WMNF News and previously covered news for Patch.com and various local neighborhood newsletters. Her work has been featured in the New York Daily News, Free Speech Radio News and Florida Public Radio and she's been interviewed by radio stations across the nation for her coverage of the 2012 Republican National Convention. Janelle is a diehard news junkie who isn't afraid to take on big names in local politics including Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, the dirty business of trash and recycling in St. Pete and the ongoing Pier debacle. Her work as a reporter and radio host has earned her two WMNF awards including News Volunteer of the Year and Public Affairs Volunteer of the Year. Janelle is also the devoted mother to three brilliant and beautiful daughters who are a constant source of inspiration and occasional blogging fodder. To contact, email janelle@floridapolitics.com.

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