Local leaders urge customers to shop local this holiday season

With Black Friday and the official start to the holiday shopping season approaching, Congresswoman Kathy Castor and local business owners joined together for a virtual news conference Tuesday to urge people to shop local.

Castor said she would normally hold this news conference in Seminole Heights, where she likes to highlight small businesses this time of year. That isn't possible this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

"This year, I'm particularly thankful for our small business owners who have been weathering the storm during the global health crisis, during the COVID-19 pandemic. It has not been easy," Castor said. "Here we are in Thanksgiving week and I hope this highlights to all of our neighbors how important it is to spend those dollars during the holiday season with your local small business owners."

The business owners who joined the Zoom news conference discussed how the pandemic has affected their stores. Some had to rely on a loan from the federal Paycheck Protection Program to keep their businesses afloat.

Troy Manthey, who owns Pirate Water Taxi in Tampa, said he had to lay off all but 13 of his 145 employees after the pandemic started. The PPP loan has helped him staff 90 workers now. 

"Without the lifeline of PPP, I can really tell you this would be a different story for our company," said Manthey, who added his business is doing better but still struggling compared to 2019.

Other businesses had to adapt. Dark Door Spirits, a Tampa distillery, began making essential items.

"When the pandemic started, we transitioned into making hand sanitizer," said General Manager Lewis Starkey. "We've been supplying some local essential workers. We gave a lot away to a local fire department and police department and supplying some hospitals in the area currently."

Kelly Hawaii's business, Lufka Refillables Zero Waste, is among the stores that are a 2020 success story.

"We are deemed essential because we have natural cleaning products that also disinfect," Hawaii said, adding this pandemic has proven how important small businesses are to communities, especially when things get tough. "Us small business owners, we bring the flare and this culture and this creativity to our city and we make it great. And if small businesses die, a city dies."

Federal lawmakers, meanwhile, are discussing approving a second round of PPP loans as part of a new stimulus bill, but leaders of both parties have not yet agreed on a deal.