ST. PETERSBURG – The Mount Zion Progressive Marching Band could be heard from blocks away as the second annual Neighborhood Walmart’s Black History Festival sprung to life on 18th Avenue South.
The three rows of vendors gave the impression of an open-air market as crowds of people quickly filled the lot to take in the entertainment while looking at the goods and services provided by local purveyors.
Fire, ambulance and police vehicles with their respective personnel were on hand to speak to the crowd about the services they provide. Even Ajax, a trained police dog, showed up and out as he followed his handler’s commands while sneaking in a few moves of his own.
“We have more vendors than we had last year,” said Janice Ford, Neighborhood Coordinator for the City of St. Petersburg’s Community Services Department.
Ford added that she had many more vendors wanting to participate but had to turn away because the festival has outgrown the parking lot.
A gifted high school violinist and male and female soloists all bedazzled the crowd with their musical talents. Also front and center was group of rowdy parents cheering on their pint-sized divas and dudes as they serenaded the crowd.
“This event by far blew me away,” said Dan Patt, store manager for the Neighborhood Walmart in Sarasota. He previously managed a Super Walmart but prefers a smaller store in the heart of the community.
“This is the kind of event that can only happen with a Neighborhood Walmart because they know the community and vice-versa,” Patt added.
Gerald Bryant, assistant manager for the 18th Avenue store, worked closely with the City of St. Petersburg to make the event bigger and better than last year.
“As you can see, the turnout speaks for itself,” said Bryant, as the crowd continued to swell in the background.
A wide array of vendors created a broad spectrum of available crafts, goods and services.
“I have a foundation here in St. Petersburg that does free prostrate screening,” said Jim West, an 18-year survivor of prostate cancer.
Jon Arterton was at the event to invite singers in the community to be a part of his multicultural One City Chorus that he plans to debut this fall.
Ford and Bryant said they are looking forward to putting on an even bigger event next year that may require expanding the venue across 18th Avenue to the grounds of the GTE Credit Union lot.