Business owners, from left, Joy Madden of Petal and Vine Garden Shop and Market in Belleair Bluffs, Debbie Jetter of Country Porch Antiques & Country Décor in Largo, Julie Papalardo of Julie’s Cottage at Provence in Largo and mother and daughter team Cathy and Andrea Ottaviani of Provence Art and Antiques in Belleair Bluffs are part of the Cottage Shoppes Along the Shore to promote local shops.
LARGO – Debbie Jetter’s idea was a simple one: unite the unique and locally owned shops in northeast Largo and Belleair Bluffs to create a network of small businesses that supported and promoted one another.
Cottage Shoppes Along the Shore is the resulting group of 14 storeowners who jumped at the chance for their own “shop local” campaign. As a group, they sell everything from antique, French, shabby and country home furniture and décor, florals, gifts and even coffee, yogurt and lunch.
“Almost all of us do one-of-kind things,” Jetter said.
The stores range as far south as Walsingham Road, west to Indian Rocks Road, north as far as Antique Alley in Belleair Bluffs and East Bay Drive and Missouri Avenue to the east. Jetter explained that Cottage Shoppes form a full circuit and could represent several days of exploring.
“I tried to choose shops that kind of made a little circle so women can make a shopping day of it,” she said. “I wanted to keep it mostly retail, but when you’re shopping, you have to stop for coffee or lunch or something, especially if you want to keep going.”
On the front counter of Jetter’s shop, Country Porch Antiques & Country Décor, Jetter displays bright pink pamphlets that feature a list of the Shoppes and a map, as do all of the participating stores.
“At this day and time, it’s very tough for small business. And if we don’t network together then it makes it even harder,” said Julie Papalardo.
Papalardo has owned her silk flower store, Julie’s Cottage at Provence, since 1998 and explained that the Cottage Shoppes network is a welcome idea.
“Let’s all come together and be one presence instead of like a whole bunch of little people out on our own. That’s what we’re trying to do,” she said. “We have some great things that happen on this side of town, and we just want more people to know about it.”
Cathy Ottaviani has owned Provence Art & Antiques since 1994 and said she appreciates the collaborative nature of the group. She said she’s seen other such networks fail because members didn’t want to promote each other.
“They didn’t want to network because they were afraid that business would be taken from them,” she said.
Jetter said it was important for the group to have well established businesses and newer ones like her own, which opened only 14 months ago.
“We’ve got some old blood and new blood. It isn’t just newbies that are trying to get together to get advertising out there,” she said.
Among the new blood are Joy Madden and Patti Quinn, grade-school friends who opened a flower shop 10 months ago called Petal & Vine Garden Shop and Market.
“It’s a totally new adventure for us,” Madden said.
The network helps the individuals in organic ways. If some of Papalardo’s silk flowers customers are looking for fresh arrangements, she can send them to Petal & Vine and vice versa. It’s all about building word-of-mouth promotion.
“A lot of what I have enjoyed is the personal relationships,” Madden said. “People come in and they’ll stop, and you may talk to them for 20 minutes. They may not buy anything. But chances are, they’re coming back.”
“Next time, they have two friends with them,” Papalardo said.
Sometimes, hearing that just the atmosphere of the shop has been therapeutic is “one of the greatest compliments,” she explained.
While the idea has been several months in the making, the Cottage Shoppes Along the Shore have been actively promoting themselves with the brochures for only about four weeks. The feedback so far has been encouraging.
“Some people tell me they’re not aware of some of the shops that are on the brochure,” Jetter said.
After the winter residents leave, the summer tends to be slower for small shops in Florida. But the season allows the time for the shops to try something new, like a self-promotion network targeted at local customers.
“That’s what my goal is: to increase my base of local people, so I don’t have to starve through the summer and pray for winter to get here,” Jetter said.
These days, small shops are experiencing increasing competition from big box stores that can sell items cheaper than the shops can even buy them, Papalardo said.
“But they’re going to walk out with it in a big plastic bag. No one’s going to help you. No one’s going to say, ‘Hey, what if you put this with that?’ But the price – the price we can’t compete with,” she said.
Yet items bought at local shops are unique and built to last. For example, Ottaviani repurposes some of the furniture she sells along with the antiques.
“A couple of times, people will come in and they’ll say to me, ‘Remember when I bought that table back like, 10 years ago? … I still have it!’” she explained.
“There are some things where you can duplicate an idea, but you really can’t duplicate it,” her daughter Andrea Ottaviani added.
Getting customers to notice your store requires a little more these days.
“It’s hard to just put a sign on the road and say ‘Here we are.’ You have to take the extra effort,” Papalardo said.
And the word-of-mouth promotion gained through an effort like the Shoppes can be a lot more effective than a sign, Jetter said.
For more information about Cottage Shoppes Along the Shore, pick up a brochure at any of the 14 participating shops, including:
• Country Porch Antiques & Country Décor at 13862 Walsingham Road in Largo: 595-2500
• Julie’s Cottage at Provence at 13128 Indian Rocks Road in Largo: 517-8102
• Provence Art & Antiques at 2620 Jewell Road in Belleair Bluffs: 581-5754
• Petal & Vine Garden Shop and Market at 596 Indian Rocks Road in Belleair Bluffs: 614-8770