Photos Josie Koler

The commercialization of Christmas tells us what the holidays are supposed to be. Plenty of money to buy gifts for everyone—straight from a sterile mall.

Or, from a quaint village-like shopping center the more posh northerners have progressed to.

Or worse, the Internet.

But, here in the fabulous Florida Keys, where snow birds will be dropping thousands just for a week long whirlwind tour, Christmas means community and the eight days of Hanukah mean eight days of jet ski tour stocking stuffers, furnishings from Fast Buck Freddie’s and a fishing pole from your local angling outfitter.

Buy local. Support your neighbors. Become part of your community’s cash flow.

The Weekly Newspapers has this on Black Friday.

“Umm… I would say close to 20, 25 people who I have to purchase for or make gifts for. Always, always, always I buy local I spend most of the money for what I need in the Keys. Up and down the Keys. We want to support our people here so absolutely.”

Kathy is a Key West pre-school teacher and our camera caught her mingling around the artists at The Studios of Key West during the last Walk on White.

“We’ve got some amazing artists and craftsman here, so it isn’t necessary to go anywhere else.”

Rick Dostal has metal sculptors with price tags that rival the price of a Wii game, but won’t lose luster by Easter or, better yet, 2020.

Sherry Sweet Tewell and Marky Pierson’s Cosmo the Boat Cat is the purr-fect read for any season, and then there’s Steve “Koz” Kozlowski, the retired plumber from Dee-TROIT City who displays and sells the works of 29 Keys and Caribbean artists in the Green World Gallery on Duval.

“We have jewelry, chairs, mirrors, books, bags. When someone comes in to buy a gift I think, ‘Hey! That’s pretty cool!’ We have unique items, all original.”

First State Bank and the Key West Chamber of Commerce President Diane Gibson just did a stroll down Duval to stake out gifts for everyone she’s giving to on her gift list.

“I just went on Saturday! I was zippin’ around. I hit Coach and a couple of other retail stores; plus, the art galleries. You can find unique items here that you can’t find at the chain stores and at our clothing boutiques. All the money stays here locally.”

Disheartening is the word executive vice president of the Key West Chamber Virginia Panico uses to describe holiday shopping (or any day of the year for that matter) habits which involve the internet, Lincoln Ave. or any mall on the mainland.

“We have to support our own community. Go to the stores we have here. You’re not just supporting the businesses or the owners. You’re supporting the employees. Even if you’re shopping at Ross or Pier One, those employees are still paying utility bills, paying taxes, sending their children to school, to the doctor, to the dentist. The money all goes around, and most importantly, they are giving to non-profit organizations. They’re part of this community.”

Take Koz. He supports the Wesley House, Boys and Girls Club, Habitat for Humanity, The Studios of Key West and Toyz for Keyz Kidz to name a few.

“I like the community. I got a project going with Keyz Kidz. I bought 100 little wood boxes and all the paints and I’m going to have a paint event and the kids are going to make mom and dad a painted box for the holidays.”

Over on Eaton Street, The Restaurant Store owner Richard Tallmadge has been on the island for two decades. He says we’re lucky here in paradise we are closer to Cuba than Walmart. The Internet though is the Grinch who stole his holiday profits, the time of year responsible for 70 percent of all retail sales across the board.

“People fail to realize the financial repercussions that online and big box retail shopping is profound. My items may cost a little bit more money, but buying locally is in the best, long-term interest of the community. Local businesses support local charities, the state sales tax, property taxes, the money re-circulates in the community seven times.”

Heading up the Buy Local campaign in the Middle Keys is Chamber of Commerce CEO Daniel Samess who reaffirms Tallmadge’s circulation number and the positive affect of buying gifts locally. Again, citing the fact our businesses sponsor events, give to scholarships, and participate in every aspect of the community, Samess likes to purchase attractions for gifts and recently bought a by-plane ride from Conch Air Tours for his wife, Liz, to take with her dad.

“We try to give experiences, and for people shopping locally, there are a ton of great things to do with family; swim with the dolphins, tour the Turtle Hospital, fishing, snorkeling and air tours.”

“Barefoot Billy” Mosblech of the island jet ski tour attests attractions create priceless memories.

“The 27 mile tour is a controlled stroll ride fun for all ages. You get plenty of playtime and we get a positive reaction. The young professional is our biggest customer, but I’ve had grandparents have the time of their lives! There’s a thrill to it, but this is a guided tour around the island that takes between an hour and a half to two hours.”

Tallmadge does his tour on land, from one Key West classic watering hole to the next.

  “I buy one beer and one shirt. I gather collectible t-shirts from the Hog’s Breath, Green Parrot, Blue Heaven…it’s a fabulous way to shop for my family. I don’t do it in one day!”

Panico points out you can “Shell Out Less” for attractions, watersports, accommodations and clothing by clicking on the coupon section of the chamber’s website at In Key Largo, chamber President Jackie Harder not only has scuba diving with Santa and free Pina Coladas when you pose with your pooch for a Holiday photo op, she has worked with the Tourist Development Council to develop Light Up Key Largo, 11 days and nights of events to light the way to local goods. 

“We’re planning!” By “we” I mean the entire community is coming together for a huge, 11-day Buy Local event to coincide with the 50th anniversary of John Pennecamp State Park.”

From Key Largo to Key West and Marathon, Tavernier, Islamorada, and Big Pine; the message is as loud as you and your friends rockin’ around the Christmas tree: think outside the big package stores, wrap-up our local attractions and accommodations, and drop all of your hard-earned dollars here.


By giving the gift of Sherry Sweet Tewell’s Cosmo the Boat Cat to the favorite ankle-biter in your life, you’re supporting local artists and the local community. Catch the $pirit of the $eason



Local Shopper
When in doubt, take a cue from Richard Tallmadge drinking beer and buying classic bar shirts to give as gifts. Catch the $pirit of the $eason




Key West Chamber of Commerce President Diane Gibson has a reputation for two things: banking and shopping. “This is my favorite time of the year. I would say because of the challenging economic times, with everyone watching their bottom line, what better way to help support he community than to spend your hard earned dollars here at home.” Catch the $pirit of the $eason




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