ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — The simplest way to describe the website, LocalShops1, is to call it a very, very, small version of what Amazon does. The main difference, all of the businesses are local to the Tampa Bay Area.
Ester Venouziou launched LocalShops1 as a hobby back in 2008. Several years later, she worked full time to build the site after she lost her job. Right now, there are more than 300 businesses that subscribe to the site.
"Our site is a good way to connect with a lot of people from our own customer base," Venouziou said. "Our goal, like I said, we want to pump a million dollars into the economy."
Venouziou said her passion is supporting locals, so she doesn't charge businesses listing fees on items.
"In general, when you shop local, about 70 cents of every dollar you spend stays within the community cause it gets recirculated," Venouziou said.
"Every dollar you spend at a big box store or Amazon less than 40 cents stays local. Every dollar matters."
We interviewed the owner of ZaZoo'd in downtown St. Petersburg. The brick-and-mortar store specializes in antiques, Tampa and St. Pete gear, furniture and eccentric items you can't find anywhere else. They have ten items listed on LocalShops1.
"It's another way to talk about local businesses to support them," David Fischer at ZaZoo'd said. It became a market place for us, and it continues to be a great resource for us to utilize."
Fischer said they do sell some items online. But, the bulk of their sales come from foot traffic.
"There's a lot of personal touchpoints that we offer in the store that you can't get from an Amazon or a big box store," Fischer said. "And, so I think it's about those personal touches and connections we make with those in the community."
When there are surges in case counts reported by local media, Fischer said he could tell fewer people out and about shopping. A constant reminder that we are not out of the woods yet.
"I would tell you the more that the news makes of the numbers and the differences in the numbers day-to-day will impact how many people walk in our front door," Fischer said. And so it seems some days lighter on the news side of COVID we see more people coming out and shopping. Certain days of news scare them more than others, and on those days, we don't see anyone enter the store."
Venouziou said that type of volatility surrounding the virus's uncertainty is one more reason to shop local.
"It just really makes a difference, especially these days every dollar makes a difference," Venouziou said.