Sunday, October 1, 2023

Shop Local Boost Gift Card Program Helping Historic Triangle Small Businesses In Time Of Need

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WILLIAMSBURG – Organizers of the Shop Local Boost gift card program were concerned most of the money would be spent online, defeating its purpose. The worrying was for naught. As of March 1, 61 percent of the gift cards had been redeemed, with 92 percent being used at a physical location.

“That was a big thing when we first started,” said Terry Banez, CEO of the Greater Williamsburg Chamber of Commerce. “We were worried everybody was going to go to Amazon.”

In Banez’s report to the Williamsburg Economic Development Authority on March 9, she said only $2,000 had been used online, including $1,000 with Amazon.

“That was a surprise to me,” she said.

The program was a collaboration among the City of Williamsburg, the Williamsburg Chamber of Commerce, James City County, York County, Chesapeake Bank, and others to support and promote local businesses. Booths were set up at a different location for five consecutive weeks in November and December of 2021. For $25, patrons could purchase a $50 VISA gift card from Chesapeake Bank or a $50 gift card from the Williamsburg Area Restaurant Association (WARA). There was a limit of two per household, and only 160 VISA cards and 40 WARA gift cards were available each week.

“We turned people away,” Banez said.

The program was a way to encourage residents to focus on small businesses for the holidays. The VISA cards could be used anywhere, but the WARA cards guaranteed at least 20 percent of the funds would be spent at area restaurants. The latter worked out better than expected.

“Out of the $50,000, 28 percent of that was used at local restaurants. That’s awesome,” Banez said. “In an industry right now that’s suffering, to think that it not only went to WARA, but they used the gift cards to shop as well, I think that’s a win for us.”

Debi Schaefer, the executive director of WARA, said the program drove traffic to restaurants.

“This was the largest year of gift card sales and a boost to our local restaurants,” she said.

The five locations where the cards were available were Shorty’s Diner, Merchants Square, Riverwalk Landing, New Town, and The Virginia Beer Company.

“We were very strategic in how we placed them,” Banez said.

Shorty’s Diner and The Virginia Beer Company were the first and last, respectively, because those businesses are in the Edge District, which is where Williamsburg, James City, and York all meet. Then each locality decided on one location.

Paula Milstead, the director of marketing for Chesapeake Bank, said all their locations want to be involved in 2022.

“The Boost Local business campaign was the perfect example of community organizations coming together to help our small business community grow and prosper,” she said. “As a community banker, this was one of the most fulfilling and successful campaigns we have done, and it completely showed the spirit of the Greater Williamsburg community and what we can do when we work together and support each other.”

Banez agreed, and said she was most proud of the collaborative effort it took to be successful.

“We were hoping that if we could get 80 percent being used locally, we would have thought that was successful,” she said. “Everybody worked together to make this a successful program. That’s one of the huge wins in this.”

Banez also credited the community, as the cards sold out at each location.

“And they shopped local,” she said.

There already is talk of holding the program again in 2022, but Banez is hoping to increase it to $80,000 with each locality donating $10,000.

There is no expiration date on the cards, and Banez will continue collecting data until all the cards have been used. Here are some notes she compiled on the VISA gift card usage:

  • If current trend holds, $46,400 will be used at a physical location.
  • Fourteen percent were used at grocery stores.
  • Two gift cards were used at an ABC store.
  • One person used it to pay a sanitation bill.
  • Only two were used out of state (Arizona and North Carolina).

“Overall, I would say very successful. We’re really pleased,” she said.

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