Saturday, September 19, 2009

LocalShops1 Girl finds a home!

Here she is, with Historic Shed! Details on

Tweet-up in Tampa!!!

It's that time again!! and Socially Mediated have partnered up again to bring Saint Pete Tweets' fourth Tweet-up! And this time, we're taking it across the bay ... Our host is the beautiful Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center, which has offered free guided tours, snacks and drinks. You just bring your smiling self :)

For those who have never been to a Tweet-up, here's what to expect: awesome people, social and business networking, maybe even a few surprises.

For more information, please go to

Coffee & tea shops, read up!

Our environmentally-friendly friends Katia and Mary have a plan to encourage businesses to make their shops greener. They're sponsoring Tampa's very first Carrotmob. Here is how it works: Businesses place bids, committing a percentage of sales on 'mob' day to go toward improving insulation, installing energy-efficient lighting, etc. Store with highest bid wins. Meanwhile, they're gathering a group of people -- lots of students here, from USF and UT -- who pledge to shop at the winning store on mob day.

For more info, go to

Monday, August 10, 2009

Pay it forward, Tampa Bay!

It's nice to know there are still some good souls out there.

One of our local small business folks who recently had to shut down because of the ruined economy also just lost her house to foreclosure. In a week's time, she and her two children would be out on the streets.

But Kalena Bowers of Parrish is resourceful and savvy. She turned to Craig's List and posted a listing asking for help from the community in finding a solution. An act of kindness was born, and someone generously offered their home for her family to stay in until they get on their feet again.

A hand up. Different than a hand out. That's what binds us all in times of crisis, I think; empathy for the human condition. And God knows right now that so many of us are affected by financial constraints.

Bowers then posted a different kind of ad on Craig's List after that random stranger offered to help: a listing urging the rest of the community to do the same. So many others are struggling, and so many of us have help to offer, even if it is just something small. She was positive that people would catch the wave.

She was right. The deluge of responses has pushed the formation of a new group: "People Helping People." Simple. Poetic. To the point. Bowers is gathering a small army of resources together to meet weekly and offer the same hand up to others in need. There's strength in numbers, and also in diversity.

Being compelled to give and give back is contagious. I still believe - as does Bowers, I'm sure - that there are genuine people with warm hearts out there, and that we can make this world a bit better one spoonful at a time. One small kind deed at a time.

Bowers isn't looking for miracles. Whether you bring food for the hungry, school supplies for the needy kids, vouchers, gift cards, knowledge, job offers, kind words, moral support - it all counts. The sum of our parts is greater than the whole. Even if we ourselves are in need, too.

So let's pay it forward, Tampa Bay. To be a part of it all, contact the group at (941) 870-5618.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Happy First Birthday, Local Shops1 !!!!

Let's face it: those of us who run small local businesses have few champions for our cause. And with the decline in the economy, driving customers through the door is a bit tougher these days.

We've got someone in our corner, though. Localshops1, the brainchild of savvy St. Pete journalist Ester Venouziou, has been a trumpet for local retail and small business in the Tampa Bay area for the last year.

The Localshops1 site is nothing less than a phenomenon; the network web is a far-reaching support system for local places that may not get attention otherwise. Our local retail shops, restaurants and services are like hidden gems among the area. Ester's endeavor brings us right to the shine.

And to think, this whole thing started to get Ester's mother away from the malls when she came to visit. The tentative list of great local places to shop has exploded over the last year.

And today, Localshops1 celebrates it first birthday! The local shopper girl got herself a bit of a make-over, the website got just a little more spiffy, and Ester won herself $250,000 in a marketing contest to promote local businesses. I'd say Localshops1 has much to celebrate!

It's free for local small retail and services to get listed on the site. And the value of word of mouth is priceless.

So let's pause and appreciate all this. Come celebrate with us tonight at the Tables Restaurant in St. Petersburg, 535 Central Avenue. The festivities kick off at 7 p.m. Good food, good friends, good entertainment!

Congratulations, Localshops1 and Ester! And thank you, from your local small business fans!

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Coffee and gossip - two of my favorite things

I learned early on as a freshman news reporter that to really find out what's going on in a place, you can't skulk around city hall. Instead, you park your butt in the best local cafe and pay attention to the local crowd.

When I transplanted myself here from little New England, it was kind of a culture shock of chain restaurants and traffic whizzing by. It took me a while to find those kitschy little local places where the pie is homemade and the gossip is just as fresh as the coffee.

Found a great one in Ellenton - D's Ellenton Cafe (7044 US 301 North, Ellenton, 941-723-1139). It's tucked away near the Rocky Bluffs Public Library, one of my all-time favorite places to wile away a rainy day. I never noticed it before; it's sort of unassuming and quiet under its cafe awnings.

Like all the other places I find, I just wandered in one day, drawn by the smell of good coffee. Ellenton Cafe is the kind of place that serves breakfast all day, and has great homemade desserts. The kind of place to knock off a sinfully juicy cheeseburger and a side of fries, and get served a good helping of local gossip.

It was obvious that Ellenton Cafe draws the same crowd in daily - they all seemed to know one another by name. It's the kind of thing I miss about living up north, that small-town feeling; like when you walk in a place, it's like slipping into your favorite house shoes.

My server tells me the meatloaf is indescribable - practically its own food group. After the pie I ate, I believe her. I know I'll have to slip in there again at dinnertime to see. And maybe, just maybe, if I slip in there enough, I could even be considered a local myself. You never know.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Taking digital media to new heights

Have you guys seen this? Billboards around the area connected to Twitter accounts? Talk about a new height in advertising.

Clear Channel Outdoors which rents out digital billboards for advertising has entered a new realm by hooking those boards up to Twitter, the social networking site that plays host to many businesses. People keep in touch by sending out 140 - character "tweets" on their status.

Clear Channel Outdoors has figured out how to instantly send those tweets to the ad boards, which update in real time. Even if you send those tweets from your BlackBerry.
They're already doing themselves - although the updates are pretty generic, limited to happenings in the local area.

But they are showing businesses the potential: set up a free Twitter account, and reach more people than by billboard alone. The possibilities are endless here. Potential customers see the update board, log on to Twitter and follow said business.

I must admit, I'm intrigued. Who knows where this can go? It's essentially taking marketing coverage boundaries and erasing the lines. And while I'm excited about this prospect, I am more excited about what it could lead to, and what it could mean for local businesses. In these days when marketing dollars are scarce and deficits are many, we need all the reach we can get.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

What will happen to local St. Pete business if no Rays?

I am watching with some trepidation the "academic" meetings happening about the Tampa Bay Rays and where they should play.

Yes, I know worrying about it now is probably a bit premature, since the Rays do have a contract with the city of St. Petersburg through 2027, but I have also been around the block enough times to know that nothing is ever set in stone.

Besides the fact that the Trop is a landmark, we have come to love seeing our Rays in St. Pete. So why now after all these years is St. Pete not a suitable home anymore for the team? The group "A Baseball Community" or ABC Coalition is studying all of this and has announced that the Trop is too remote a location for most baseballs fans to get to with any convenience.

For whom?? I live a county away and still drive in to St. Pete to see the Tampa Bay Rays. And almost half of the season ticket holders live in Pinellas. If the Trop were any closer to the interstate it would have its own lane.

The ABC Coalition in their "academic" discussions are kicking around several other locations. Most of them are in Tampa: downtown, the Westshore area and the fairgrounds. Another Pinellas spot, Carillon, is also being looked at.

I will be in a snit if I have to go into Hillsborough County. I know I won't be the only one.
But all of that notwithstanding, my real concern is for our small local businesses that call downtown St. Pete home, and rely on that economic boost the at-home Rays games provide. In these anorexic financial times, our local businesses have really felt the pinch. Any more blows from the money axe and we may see more storefronts closing.

The small business community is having to rely on loans and credit to get by in lieu of consumer spending. The walk-in traffic from the baseball games is a welcome relief. If we move the Rays, that well may dry up. Who knows? Our local businesses are not silent partners in this.

There is far more for our economic development leaders to consider here than just who wants to drive where. If you build it, they will come. Well, it's already here. Can't we just keep it?

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Relax and say ahhh! Great find in Parrish

Given the obvious slow death-rattle of customer service, it's nice to stumble upon a place where it thrives!

I had a great find in Manatee County, a little family-run spa tucked away on US 301 on the way through Parrish.

I'll admit it right here: I love to be pampered. Don't we all? But I have been to a few nail spas in my travels that seem to run more like a production line in a factory. They just seem to be missing that certain welcoming ambiance.

Cali Nails & Tan in Parrish is quite different. Family run by husband and wife team Luan and Kim Vo, this little nail spa just breathes relaxation from the moment you walk in the door. The hustle and stress of life sort of stops when you sit in one of their chairs, ready to be babied. The mood is lazy and laid back here (they make good use of aromatherapy); the whole place goes back to a time when people actually talked to one another.

It's tough to have a bad thought in those awesome Shiatsu massage chairs while getting a nice, long pedicure, complete with heat wraps for calves and ankles and peppermint oil skin treatments. Forget it once the foot massage kicks in!

And at this little nail spa, there's always an "in-flight" movie playing on flat screen T.V.s if you are so inclined. If you can keep your eyes open, that is.

The regular clientele that visit here tell me Cali has been this way since it opened in 2001. Here, it's all about customer service, prices that haven't changed much over the years, and good old-fashioned pride in a job well done. No wonder they have such a following! A great place to relax, soothe the soul and get beautiful.

Cali Nails & Tan is a full-service salon, complete with waxing, paraffin treatments, massage and tanning. And since it's family run, it's also family friendly. In this economic downturn, it's nice to see a small local business doing well based on their simple values of service. Hard to find lately, it seems.

You can find them at 8323 Us Highway 301 N, Parrish, FL. Phone 941-776-5450 for appointments, but they welcome walk-in traffic too. Open seven days weekly. Relax and say ahhh!

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Have press releases become dinosaurs?

I come from old school journalism, the era of "who, what, when, where & why" and a good, craftily written lead. I pounded a beat for years, surviving on my investigative skills to scoop the other daily papers.

And as the business of journalism has shifted due to our digital society, I flowed with it. I know the idea of the scoop is obsolete; no such thing when the info is spinning the Web moments after it is released.

I can remember the days when press releases were our meat and potatoes, especially when a 5 p.m. deadline is looming and an editor is peering over your shoulder. In my freelance business, I have written many, many press releases for clients, aiming that arrow at the usual print sources. They have always a been a great tool to get the word out.

I wasn't ready for the NY Times article I read today in the Sunday Business section. It seems the press release is dead. And I didn't even get to go to the wake.

We live our lives online, and more often than not that's where we obtain our news. (I still read the newspapers, too, call me kooky.) And those broadcasting the news online aren't journalists in the traditional sense, but just as savvy at disseminating the breaking news. So with this, PR has morphed.

Press releases are no more. Not when we can send the same tidbit out in 140 characters or less on Twitter, or post it on Facebook or Digg. Or blog about it, as I am doing now. PR has turned a sharp corner, bypassing the old media and courting the online pundits instead, where potentially millions of people can be reached in mere nanoseconds. The seduction is obvious.

And while I mourn the loss of the old ways, I have to also celebrate the information superhighway we travel on. When anything big happens in the world, we know about it instantly, and of course, we've become addicts.

It has changed the way I run my small business. Marketing and PR have become paperless, in lieu of our e-world. A couple of clicks and I can tweet my own horn; no need to write those pesky press releases anymore.

Social media has become vital to business, almost overnight. I have rolled with the punches. And who knows? Maybe tomorrow the medium will change. But the messages will stay the same. And hopefully, our communications will still be based on relationships.
However virtual they may be.