ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- Some mom-and-pop shops in downtown St. Pete are struggling to keep their doors open with commercial rent prices doubling and tripling as the city grows.
Now, a new program is helping to bring exposure to local businesses.
Blake Rodgers, who owns a St. Pete business, is now using “I love St. Pete” key tags to lure potential customers into his restaurant.
The Central Avenue entrepreneur had a dream. He wanted to move to Florida and open a crab cake restaurant.
Three years ago, that dream became reality.
“People we’re always asking me to make crab cakes so I decided to come to Florida and open Blake’s Crab Cakes ,” he explained.
His seafood is gaining popularity, but attracting new customers is a struggle.
“We know that the food is good, so we know that they’ll be back when they find us,” he added.
Just down Central Avenue, Laura Fage’s boutique, Patina , is facing the same problem.
“People say ‘My god! You’re right here on Central Avenue. I’ve never had time to stop,'" she elaborated.
Stan Arthur heard their complaints and knew he needed to step in. So, the man behind the popular I love St. Pete Facebook page turned a small plastic key tag into a big push to shop local.
“When you shop with local merchants, you tend to make local friends,” he said.
The idea is simple: Pick up one of the free key tags at a variety of local shops, flash the tag and get a discount.
“My inbox is full of small businesses wanting to join this program,” Arthur said with enthusiasm.
More than 100 small businesses signed up within the first few weeks, Arthur hopes to expand to more than 500.
Some local businesses say the key tags have increased sales by 15 to 20 percent, enticing new customers through their doors.
As the city explodes in popularity, pushing rent prices to record highs, mom and pop shops hope small initiatives like the I love St. Pete key tags will make a big impact.
“That’s the major thing for us. We’re a really small place and our 12 seats or whatever so there’s not a big budget for advertising,” Rodgers pointed out.
For a list of participating businesses, check out the I love St. Pete Facebook page .