Friday, March 13, 2009

So not all the news is bad ...

Yes, we've been in the financial quagmire since about 2007. Especially here in Florida, where the foreclosure rate, the ridiculous homeowners' insurance fees and the ever-growing unemployment population have given newscasters something to rant about other than hurricanes.
Not to mention the businesses closing, the national chains that have gone belly-up, and the 500 or so lay-offs that are announced everyday. Add in the banking bail-out and the picture was looking bleak there for awhile.
There many finally be a smidgen of good news on the forefront: Businesses are starting to come back into Florida. Tampa Bay, even. Brighthouse Networks is hiring about 400 people, says their website. Temp agencies are starting to need applicants again. AT&T will add 3,000 employees this year, some of them locally.
And just this week it was announced that an extended stay hotel is being built in the Midtown area of St. Petersburg. Menna Development will break ground this summer on the 120-room hotel near Fifth Avenue South and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Street South, in the area near Bayfront Medical Center and Tropicana Field. Planners say that it will have an urban architecture and be about seven stories. They'll turn back the sheets somewhere in early 2010.
Amenities will include shuttle and limousine services, pool and fitness center. Many hope it well help to revitalize the Midtown area, and bring some much-needed foot traffic through the doors of our local independent businesses. Good news for our retailers!
This announcement comes on the heels of a few very good days on Wall Street. The Dow was up by several hundred points each day this week, in response to Citigroup announcing that for the first time in months, they were operating at a profit. Since financial stocks have been at the heart of the market collapse, the news is encouraging.
A few good days don't make a trend, though. This could just be one of those bear market rallies that fizzle out as soon as they start. But it does suggest that the winds of change are coming. If people trust the market more, they funnel more money into businesses, which funnel money right back out.
So we may be on the up and up. Let's hope so. Then we can finally go back to worrying over things we actually have control over. Like hurricane season.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Public speaking: I'd rather get the electric chair

You know that dream where everyone is pointing and laughing and you look down and realize that you are completely naked?
They say that dream can be interpreted a lot of ways, one of them being a fear of public speaking, fear of being exposed in front of a bunch of people.
I got to experience this first-hand recently (NOT the naked part) when I was invited to speak to a local author's group about editing and writing. Now, I'm usually a pretty cool customer. Nothing ruffles me too much when it comes to being out in the public eye; after all, most of the time I'm on duty as a paramedic, and that's pretty high-profile. Also, I teach CPR. Can't be shy about doing chest compressions and trying to save a life.
So being invited to talk to the Sarasota Author's Connection this past Monday was not only an honor, but it should have been a piece of cake. I am quite passionate about writing and editing. And, I'm pretty fired up about our local authors. This area boasts some of the best writing talent around, and anything that goes to support them is good with me.
I had lots of notes prepared, since they asked me to speak for an hour. Keynote speaker! Little old me!
My topics were all laid out: different kinds of manuscript editing, the goals of the editor, the precarious relationship between author and editor. I had a few jokes thrown in, and had given the presentation several times to my fellow drivers whizzing by on the Interstate while in the car. I also did a test-run in front of the dog, who was neither impressed nor offended. I had on my nicest Ann Taylor black suit, and actually did my hair for once. I was all set.
And then I stepped out in front of a room full of people. When the applause died down, I was frozen, trapped in the lights.
Like being naked in the dream.
What is it about public speaking that frightens us so? I remember the joke Jerry Seinfeld used to do about phobias and how fear of death was number two compared to speaking in public. Death was number two. How is that possible?
After Monday night, I see how it's entirely possible. While I made it through my presentation, got the points across and (hopefully) answered all of their questions, I was terrified the entire time. Perspiration was rolling down my back, and I'm reasonably sure all of my make-up slid right off onto the floor. I know I stuttered a few times. Once, I knocked the notes cards off the podium and got them jumbled, losing my place.
It's fair to say I'll think twice before presenting again. I'm more of a behind-the-scenes kind of girl, who'd rather put the clients in the spotlight. I'll just hide behind the curtain and make sure they look good. I can do the whole PR thing and promote anybody but myself.
Besides, I've come to the conclusion that I prefer the written word. Talk is cheap.

Support your neighbors. Shop locally.

Here is a blog I wrote for Creative Tampa Bay, a very cool Tampa-based group that's all about working together to make Tampa Bay even cooler than it already is!

Support your neighbors. Shop locally.
By Ester Venouziou, founder

I love to shop. I grew up in Brazil, and some of my favorite memories have to do with shopping, mostly with my grandmother and my sister, on Saturday mornings.

We’d go to the produce market, chat with the vendors as we picked up fruits and veggies. Then it was off to a meat market, or to the fish guy. Along the way we usually stopped at the newsstand, where my grandmother picked up the daily paper and maybe a magazine or two, and, if my sister and I had had a good week, we ’d be rewarded with some comic books.

Eventually we’d end up at my parents’ shop: Importadora Jenny, a fabric store named after my mom. I was about 8 or 9 then, and I remember sitting behind the counter, helping wrap up purchases, talking with the customers.

We moved to New Jersey when I was 12, and that all changed.

For the next 15 years or so, shopping meant going to the mall or to the big-box stores. I remember, when I lived in Jacksonville in the mid-1990s every Tuesday was my shopping day. Winn-Dixie and Target and Stein Mart were the regular stops. And then there was the mall. There were two pretty close to where I lived, and I’d go to one one week, the other the next. I don’t know why I even bothered to alternate, because they both had pretty much the same stores. Every week, I’d come home with bags full of things I didn’t need, things I couldn’t afford. What was in those bags I can’t remember. All I know is that shopping had stopped being fun.

• • •

There are many reasons to shop at locally owned, independent places. Studies show that money spent locally, at an indie, is more likely to stay local. On a typical November shopping day, the Tampa Independence Business Alliance reports, if all taxable purchases in Hillsborough County were made at locally owned independent businesses instead of national chains, it wo uld make a $28 million dollar difference to the local economy.

Economics aside, supporting the independents also helps preserve the businesses that link us to the past, the businesses that ensure our communities will retain charm and character to the future.

And shopping at independents is just a lot more fun.

• • •

We launched in August 2008. We are a small, grassroots group, dedicate to helping promote independent businesses. It’s always free to browse, free to join and free to get listed.

We’re not saying, never shop at the chains or franchises. We’re simply saying, think before you shop. There are times when shopping at those places makes sense, and yes, you might run into us at Publix or Target sometimes.

We just want to make it easier for people to find their options, so they don’t automatically default to the big-box stores or the malls.

Our goal is to build a network of indie business owners and indie-minded shoppers, and we’re doing that through our Web site, of course, but also by co-hosting neighborhood parties/fundraisers and marketing/business seminars. Former radio jock-turned comedian Pat Largo has been an integral part in all this, as our official spokesman and party host.

We believe in working together with the media, as well as other business and neighborhood groups, to help our local businesses thrive. We re all in this together.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Largo's Old Northwest area up-and-coming

I was pleased to see recent news of the revitalization of the downtown Largo area. With the recent spread of bad mojo surrounding the economy lately – especially the municipal checkbook – it’s refreshing to hear of folks taking an initiative to makes things better.
The “old northwest” district of Largo is a snug little area of older homes and local independent businesses that sometimes gets overlooked. It runs between Highland Avenue and 20th Street NW, above West/East Bay Drive and below 8th Avenue NW, smack in the middle of downtown Largo.
The retailers and restaurants that call it home give it a small-town flavor, complete with the friendly smiles and waves that frankly are missing from a lot of places today. Combine that with free parking, and you get yourself a good shopping day!
After seeing the news report about the revitalization effort on Baynews 9, I took the opportunity to see the area for myself, and walk its brick streets.
This little 1.8 mile corridor is full of old Florida charm, and is the kind of shopping district that instantly takes you miles away, without having to leave home. In addition to the quaint new and old businesses, there are some beautiful historic cottage homes back there – some dating back to the 1800s.
I window-shopped at a couple of the eclectic little shops, inhaled the heavenly smells coming out of the Greek Islands Restaurant and ended up at O’Houston’s Irish Pub, sitting outside and people watching for awhile. It’s nice to see this area getting some well-deserved attention.
Beating the drum for resuscitating the Old Northwest is Joseph Stefko, owner of The Hair Jungle. He’s been the driving force behind trying to revitalize the area, and has already recruited more than 125 businesses in his efforts.
Stefko has a website dedicated to enhancing the area at
Visiting there makes a nice afternoon. Make sure you wear comfortable shoes.