ST. PETE BEACH – Two years ago, officials at the Tampa Bay Beaches Chamber of Commerce realized that steps had to be taken to help increase business for local merchants all along the Pinellas County beaches from St. Pete Beach to Sand Key. The program, known as “Buy Beaches First,” was born. Now, about to enter its third year, it is safe to say the program has been a success. The idea was to convince beach residents to stay at home to do their shopping, to change the mindset that one had to go off the islands to get what they want. Shoppers, using participating merchants, are eligible to win prizes. Getting the merchants to cooperate was a different matter in the early going. Julianne Wilhelm, the marketing coordinator of the chamber, said in the beginning it was difficult to get local businesses to buy into the program. “It was a little tough because a lot of our businesses are home grown,” she said. “They have been here a long time and for them to see something new was different for them.” The chamber persevered and slowly but surely the businesses came on board. “We’re no longer passing around flyers,” said Wilhelm. “Now the businesses are coming around and getting on board, they are coming to us instead of the other way around.” The benefit for the merchants is more business. The more local residents are convinced to stay closer to home to shop the more the businesses will benefit. In addition, participating businesses have the added advantage of the promotion carried out by the chamber itself as it buys ads to promote the program. Wilhelm said this past year has seen a growth in the chamber’s activities to promote the Buy Beaches First program. “We have a new committee of visual representatives who are using social media to promote the program,” she said. “They are visiting the local businesses and talk to them one on one. As a result we’re getting a lot more response than we had anticipated, we’ve had a lot more businesses wanting to participate.” A number of those businesses are coming from John’s Pass Village. Sonny Flynn is the president of the John’s Pass Village Association and says at least half the merchants in the Village are part of the program. She expects more to get involved this year. “The ones who are involved swear by it,” she said. “Our beaches are famous for tourists so the more we can get people to buy local the better it will be.” Flynn says when year three of the program begins in mid-September she expects many more John’s Pass Merchants will get involved. Wilhelm says she can’t emphasize enough the fact that people really don’t need to leave the Beaches to get what they need out of a shopping trip. “You really can buy everything on the beaches,” she said. “Whatever you need as a shopper you can get on the beaches. People think they have to go to this mall or that mall but that isn’t true, you can get it all here.” Wilhelm says the advantages of staying at home to shop are obvious and it is just a matter of changing the way you think. “When you shop locally the money is quickly being reinvested back here, it is extremely advantageous to all of us,” she said. “We just want people to think about it. We want it to be second nature that when they think they need something to think about getting it here first.” More information on the program can be found at www.BuyBeachesFirst.com. Article published on Wednesday, Sept. 14, 2016 Copyright © Tampa Bay Newspapers: All rights reserved.
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