Determined to redefine the party supply scene in the Oldest City, this young couple is breathing life back into decorating for many a special event at Celebrations, St. Augustine’s oldest party store.
A little less than two years ago, Shane and Samantha Gipson were living in Orange Park raising two small children. Shane owned a tile and trim company and Samantha managed investment programs for real estate investment portfolios. The two northeast Florida natives were stressed out and overstretched.
Visiting St. Augustine since they were both kids, the Gipsons had a dream. They wanted to move to the nation’s oldest city, own their own business, and raise their kids, Ansley (now three) and Jackson (now five) by the beach.
So Samantha started looking on Craigslist for a business opportunity. The second listing was an advertisement for a family-owned party supply store located on San Marco Avenue that was up for sale. “We came down the next night to see it,” remembers Samantha. “And within two weeks, we quit our jobs and the store was ours. It was meant to be.”
Originally established some 22 years ago by Earl and Cindy Long, Celebrations, has remained St. Augustine’s go-to retail party store for decorations, balloons, rentals, catering supplies and so much more.
“Our passion for occasional décor started back on Memorial Day weekend in 2013 when we went to a friend’s wedding in Costa Rica,” says Shane. “They hadn’t planned any decorations, so I built an arbor out of driftwood and Samantha made a bouquet from found flowers.”
Fast-forward to today and the Gipsons are just getting their feet wet as party supply storeowners. They readily admit that the first year was spent learning the ins and outs of the business including how to run a cash register and blow up balloons.
“Now, we’re focusing on how to make Celebrations our store,” says Samantha. “We’ve started to make changes to the layout and are trending towards more custom items; less commercial products and more the kinds of things that you would find on Pinterest or Etsy.”
Walking through the aisles of Celebrations, it’s obvious why this store has enjoyed such longevity. There is, simply, something for every occasion from luau-themed paper goods in every color imaginable and dozens of items for baby showers to celebrating milestone birthdays and retirement.
“Our clientele is mostly locals,” Samantha explains. “We’ve started to really branch out to reaching out-of-towners and helping to put on annual events such as Pink Up The Pace, The Kiwanis Club’s Boots & Bling fundraiser, and Pedro Menendez High School’s prom. Networking is a huge part of what we do.”
The couple has been working on garnering a bigger social media presence including Facebook and Pinterest. They’re adding customized services like personalized invitations as well as tent, table, and linen rentals. Recently, Shane’s been building custom arbors and arches out of bamboo and other natural materials.
When Shane and Samantha aren’t busy growing an already successful St. Augustine institution, they take advantage of what’s most important to them, family. The Gipsons live on Anastasia Island and spend most of their free time on their offshore fishing boat, surfing, skateboarding and riding bikes with the kids.
When the couple was renovating Celebrations’ interior, they did more than just move around the aisles. They also built a playroom in the back for Ansley, a toddler at Ancient City Christian Academy, and Jackson, a kindergartner at R. B. Hunt Elementary School.
“I knew that I wanted to own my own business one day,” Samantha explains. “I did not like having to work so hard to make someone else rich. We wanted to build a business together, so that we could take turns spending time with the kids. That was our biggest motivation.”
On a busy Saturday, the Gipsons fill as many as 500 balloons, which makes for sore hands, and run around town fulfilling custom requests and organizing events. Not to mention manning the store for customers purchasing last-minute party goods.
“We’ve started offering one-of-a-kind signs, banners and cake toppers,” says Shane. “Whether you’re looking for a hundred miniature dream catchers or 200 fancy plates, we can get them. We are a one-stop shop.”
162-1 San Marco Avenue