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When I was laid off from the Tampa Bay Times Oct. 6, 2011, I decided to jump in on the world of full-time entrepreneur. After almost 9 years at the Times and 10 more at other newspapers mostly throughout Florida, I knew the transition from the paper/corporate world would be a big one. Friends who had already been through this path told me to expect lots of laughs and lots of tears. And they were right. Thanks for being along for the ride! -- Ester Venouziou, LocalShops1 founder


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101 Things in 1,001 Days

Posted By Ester Venouziou, Sunday, January 5, 2014
Updated: Sunday, January 5, 2014

This year I'm skipping the New Year's resolutions, and instead taking the "101 Things to Do in 1,001 Days" challenge. Here's what's on my list (I tried to limit work-related goals, but a few still snuck in). I'll let you know how I did on Oct. 2, 2016 -- that's 1,001 days from today!

  1. Travel to Cinque Terre, Italy
  2. Start painting 
  3. Take a barista class (just for fun)
  4. Paint my living room
  5. Learn Spanish
  6. Build a sandcastle 
  7. Go to the beach 101 times (or more)
  8. Have street-front location for LocalShops1 HQ
  9. Take a bartending class (also just for fun)
  10. Start an herb garden
  11. Have LocalShops1's new Buy Local! magazine go bi-monthly or monthly
  12. Replace doorknobs with glass ones
  13. Lose 30 lbs
  14. Clean up overgrown garden area in my backyard
  15. Color a page in a coloring book every day for a month 
  16. Put up a hammock in the formerly overgrown garden area
  17. Write a letter to myself to open in 10 years
  18. Read 30 books that I've never read 
  19. Go on a picnic
  20. Dance in the rain
  21. Take a yoga class at Sunken Gardens
  22. Watch 30 movies that I've never seen
  23. Learn how to cook at least one "signature" dish
  24. Write all bad memories on paper and burn the paper
  25. Host a dinner party
  26. Write a book
  27. Make bread from scratch
  28. Go horseback riding
  29. Replace outdated lighting fixtures in my bathrooms
  30. Send a message in a bottle
  31. "Unplug" for 72 hours
  32. Write a list of 101 things to do when I'm done with this batch
  33. Swim with manatees
  34. Get a dog, preferably a miniature Beagle mix
  35. Deep-clean my home
  36. Do "random act of kindness" every day for a week
  37. Spend a weekend in Charleston
  38. Spend a weekend in Austin
  39. Attend one of the Business Alliance for Local Living Economies annual conferences
  40. Reconnect with friends from pre-LocalShops1 days
  41. Spend more time with friends here
  42. Go on one of the St Pete Historical Society walking tours
  43. Clean out guest bedroom closet
  44. Live on the water
  45. Go to a forest and read a book there
  46. Walk the Pinellas Trail (and have someone pick me up to bring me back!)
  47. Learn how to make a "signature cocktail"
  48. Refinish an old piece of furniture
  49. Make pickles
  50. Get floors refinished
  51. Send Christmas cards (paper, not electronic)
  52. Go sailing
  53. Go kayaking
  54. Take a picture with Mickey Mouse  
  55. Refinish kitchen cabinets
  56. Restore attic into zen room
  57. Get a microwave (mine got zapped in 2011 and I never replaced it!)
  58. Get a new dishwasher 
  59. Drink green tea every day for a month
  60. Start a personal journal
  61. Update this blog weekly
  62. Stay away from crazy people
  63. Stay away from negative people
  64. Buy flowers for myself
  65. Learn to say "no," without disclaimers or explanations
  66. Learn more about container gardening
  67. Get a firepit
  68. Replace ugly white fridge with a retro one, maybe ice blue
  69. Paint something fun on my mailbox
  70. Catch a gecko (and then release him)
  71. Sit through an entire action movie without falling asleep
  72. Come up with a plan for unused upstairs office room
  73. Get a real camera
  74. Take the Gratitude Photo Challenge (one photo a week of something I'm thankful for, for one year)
  75. Get hot tub fixed
  76. Limit Facebook/social media to 2 hours a day
  77. Cut back on diet Coke (no more than one a week)
  78. Send birthday cards
  79. Send thank you notes
  80. Visit one new antique shop a month for 6 months
  81. Illustrate this list of 101 goals
  82. Continue to unclutter: one large bag of "stuff" a week for 5 weeks
  83. Go on spa vacation with my best friends from college 
  84. Make a necklace
  85. Sell one handcrafted thing -- not sure what yet!
  86. Go a week without complaining about anything
  87. Learn to hula-hoop
  88. Spend two days by myself in a place where I don't know anyone
  89. Go a day in complete silence
  90. Dye my hair a crazy color for Halloween
  91. Drink 6-8 glasses of water every day for a month, so hopefully it becomes a lifetime habit
  92. Buy something completely frivolous
  93. Learn Photoshop, beyond the basics
  94. Start a watergun fight
  95. Lose 30 lbs (yes, I wrote that already but it's worth repeating)
  96. Put up window flower boxes
97-101. These are secret ones. I can't share everything, afterall. But maybe I'll let you know when I accomplish them, within 1,001 days!

What's on your list? Feel free to post in the comments below. And if you have your own list of 101 on your blog, add link to it. Let's all keep each other accountable. 


Are you leaving the corporate world to start your own business? Starting over after a layoff? We want to hear your story! Please email us at, and include your story and contact info. We will try to include as many stories as possible in future blogs.

Ester Venouziou, founder of LocalShops1, is available for freelance projects: writing, editing, design or social media. She can be reached at or 727.637.5586

Tags:  001 days challenge  101 things in 1  goals for the new year  new year's resolutions 

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It's All About Working Together

Posted By Ester Venouziou, Thursday, March 7, 2013
Updated: Thursday, March 7, 2013

One of my favorite things about running LocalShops1 is seeing members work together. So it was especially exciting to see one of our members last week announce three separate collaborations, with three fellow members! 

"At a time when people are frustrated with our economy, looking for changes to happen more quickly, or waiting for someone else to improve things, I say we can make immediate changes by looking no further than our neighboring local businesses," says Robin King, co-owner of Three Birds Tavern in St. Petersburg.
And look to neighboring businesses is exactly what Robin and her husband, Jack, do when they need anything, from spicing up their menu, marketing their business and revamping their restaurant.

"We, as local business owners, need to come together and support one another, both with our words, and with our dollars," Robin says, explaining why she chooses to do business with other LocalShops1 members. "We need to create an atmosphere of collaboration, not competition. When this happens, the consumer will follow us. But until that happens, the consumer will continue to look for the best, or easiest, 'deal.' "

Three Birds' recent projects were collaborations with Intensity Academy in Lutz, Trinity Graphics in St. Petersburg, and Bell Contracting in Largo.

"I'm committed to success, not only for our business, but for our community, and the other locally owned businesses of our community," King says.

Here is more information about the recent Three Birds' projects:

1. Three Birds has added Intensity Academy hot sauce table service, and there are more collaborations to come, Robin tells us. Another Intensity Academy product, Gypsy Dust, will be used with specialty drinks, and they're working on a new wing sauce using one of their products.
How this is a win-win: By going with a local sauce company, Three Birds not only added an amazing new sauce, but extended its reach to Intensity Academy fans, which will inevitably lead to many new diners. Intensity Academy announced the collaboration to its social media followers (close to 5,000 on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest) and many instantly started following Three Birds Tavern, too. For Intensity Academy, of course, this also was a big win, having gained another wholesale customer AND having a presence in one of St. Pete's most popular restaurants.


2. Scooter Cordoza of Trinity Graphics handles much of Three Birds' promotional needs, and recently designed St. Patrick's Day products, including promo cards and T-shirts.
How this is a win-win: There are many options out there for marketing materials and promotional products, and businesses often are tempted to order online, expecting to get better deals. But by going with a local company instead, and having that in-person interaction,Three Birds gets personal service and attention to detail they might not otherwise get. For Trinity, Three Birds isn't just another account; and for Three Birds, Trinity isn't just another vendor. They look out for each other, knowing that as one business grows, so will the other.

3. Bell Contracting rebuilt two of Three Birds' staircases, and will continue with other projects and renovations.
How this is a win-win: When it was time to repair the steps at the century-old tavern, Three Birds went straight to Bell and the end result were two beautiful new staircases, with top craftsmanship and great prices. But it doesn't end there. Bell Contracting went on top post photos of the completed project on its social media circles, along with prizes for those who correctly guessed the location. The photos, of course, were shared by us here at LocalShops1, as well as several fellow members, helping draw more attention to both Bell and Three Birds.


Are you leaving the corporate world to start your own business? Starting over after a layoff? We want to hear your story! Please email us at, and include your story and contact info. We will try to include as many stories as possible in future blogs.

Ester Venouziou, founder of LocalShops1, is available for freelance projects: writing, editing, design or social media. She can be reached at or 727.637.5586

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2nd Chances

Posted By Ester Venouziou, Monday, December 17, 2012
Updated: Monday, December 17, 2012

One unexpected -- and much welcomed! -- perk in my entrepreneurship ventures was meeting Forbes Riley, actress/fitness queen/motivational speaker. She helped me believe that anything is possible. And that's an important message not only in business, but also in life


* * * * *

I'll explain, but first, the background ...

When I was in my 20s and early 30s, I was obsessed with losing weight. I joined gyms, popped pills, tried the latest diet fads. I lost weight once, on the Atkins diet, after three months of protein shakes, beef jerky and an assortment of diet pills; and for about a month, age 29, I was happy with the way I looked.

Two or three months later, the weight had started to creep back up.

I went about life, moving from Jacksonville to South Florida and then to St. Petersburg. I started a job at the then-St. Petersburg Times, bought a cute bungalow in Gulfport, launched LocalShops1.

And somewhere along the way I resigned to the fact that being fat was just the way it was going to be. There were still the occasional  impulsive purchases of the latest miracle pill, but for the most part, I simply gave up.


* * * * *

Forbes Riley came into my life like a whirlwind. A mutual friend, writer Daphne Taylor Street, asked me if I'd be up for talking with Forbes about a possible  joint promotion with LocalShops1. The next day we launched the 10-Week Spin Gym Challenge. A week later we had Forbes' studio packed with 30 women and four men who wanted to lose weight, get fit, be happy.

What happened over the next 10 weeks is hard to explain. But the results were clear right away:

  • One classmate quit smoking, after having smoked 2 packs a day for the past 30 year;
  • One went from brink of desperation to being happy to be alive;
  • One rediscovered her long-lost singing talents.

About five or six weeks into the class I started noticing my classmates were getting slimmer. Seriously so. Twenty, 25, even 30 lbs. These were people, like me, who had tried all the fads, all the pills, all the gadgets. They were people, like me, who had just about given up.

As for me, I was just barely going through the motions. The only reason I hadn't dropped out was because LocalShops1 was the sponsor, and it would have been unprofessional to give up.

I had the typical excuses for not committing 100 percent -- too busy, too tired, too whatever. But as I looked around Forbes' studio, I knew  everyone else there also had the same reasons to fail, but they chose not to. By the time I realized all this it was already Week 8.

Surprisingly, despite my minimal efforts, I had lost a few pounds and I was definitely stronger. (Yes, SpinGym works!) I was wishing we could go back in time, so I could have another chance to immerse myself, follow the program, be a success like Amy and Jackie and David and Christina and all my other classmates who finished the challenge.


* * * * *

Going back in time isn't possible, but getting another chance is! The day before our last class, Forbes told us she was offering us all the opportunity to embark on another 10-Week Challenge and complete our goals! So this time, I'm fully committed. By mid-April, I'll be 20-30 lbs lighter.


The Challenge begins in mid-January and is open to everyone. Commitment is twice a week: Tuesday and Thursday, your choice of 8 am and/or 7 pm at Forbes studio in St. Pete.  For information, email Be sure to ask about the special rates for friends of people who completed the first challenge. (Mention my name and I get a free SpinGym, too.)

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The Three Things I Hate

Posted By LocalShops1, Monday, October 15, 2012
Updated: Monday, October 22, 2012

I've been slacking on the blogging front for the St. Petersburg Chamber's Entrepreneurship Academy, and this is why: The past few classes were on topics I despise. They focused on sales, legal issues and accounting. The classes were sobering reminders of many painful mistakes I've made, and things I've overlooked, over the past several years.

Of course, it's human nature to avoid things we don't like. But for a business, though it might be possible to "get by" with minimal efforts on the sales/legal/accounting front, it's not likely that business will run efficiently or even be sustainable that way.

That might explain why early 2010, about halfway through LocalShops1 Year 2, I almost signed a document that might have put an end to my business; and why even by summer 2011, end of LocalShops1 Year 3, I was still scrambling to figure out how to pay for basic business expenses. This all while LocalShops1 was becoming increasingly popular, while we were winning awards for our advocacy efforts, while we were sponsoring high-profile community events and fundraisers.

Those were interesting times. As a community organization, we were very successful; as a business, we were barely hanging by.

So I'm writing all this to urge you to pay attention to all aspects of your business, even the ones you despise. It wasn't until I started doing so that I was actually able to sleep at night.

  * * * * *

Back to the Entrepreneurship Academy, here are the speakers and the classes from the past few weeks:

  • Sales: Jim Marshal, Sandler Training, on "the 30-Second Commercial"
  • Legal: Lee H. Rightmyer and Kimberly Gustafson, Carlton Fields, on questions facing your business
  • Accounting: Victoria Bartlett, Robert Boos Jr., Anne Tedescon, Ellen Janz and Kim Lee (of Gregory, Sharer & Stuart), on budget, pricing and small business accounting; and Nichole Morales, Morales and Associates PA, on Quickbooks.

Want more?

Are you leaving the corporate world to start your own business? Starting over after a layoff? We want to hear your story! Please email us at, and include your story and contact info. We will try to include as many stories as possible in future blogs.

Ester Venouziou, founder of LocalShops1, is available for freelance projects: writing, editing, design or social media. She can be reached at or 727.637.5586

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It's Starting to Feel Like Work

Posted By Ester Venouziou, Friday, September 21, 2012
Updated: Monday, October 1, 2012

The second class at the St. Petersburg Chamber's Entrepreneurship Academy was a tough one for me, because it brought up all sorts of things that I should have done by now. Many things that I should have done before I even started LocalShops1.

The fact that LocalShops1 is still here, four years later, is completely against the odds, according to statistics we heard. And that we're growing? A miracle!

Seventy-five to 80 percent of small businesses fail in the first two years, research finds. The reason? "They have no business plan, no CPA, and no lawyer," said Wayne Brass, county area manager for the Small Business Development Center at the University of South Florida.

I had none of that when I started.

* * * * *

The class also was a bit of a blast from the past.

The first speaker, though I had never met before, works at the Tampa Bay Times, where I spent almost a decade -- where I held my last "job." Pauline Brockman, a senior analyst at the Times, gave us some great tips for doing market research; many resources that are actually free and available to us all. 

Next up was Wayne Brass, of the Small Business Development Center. One of the things that I actually did right when I first started was go to the center for a free one-on-one counseling session, and I was assigned to Wayne. What I didn't do, though, was follow up with him. So I'm setting up another session with him ASAP. And I recommend you do, too. But be warned: He asks all the tough questions.

Want more?

Are you leaving the corporate world to start your own business? Starting over after a layoff? We want to hear your story! Please email us at, and include your story and contact info. We will try to include as many stories as possible in future blogs.

Ester Venouziou, founder of LocalShops1, is available for freelance projects: writing, editing, design or social media. She can be reached at or 727.637.5586

Tags:  entrepreneur  entrepreneurship  local businesses  oauline brockman  st. pete chamber  st. petersburg  wayne brass 

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