Buy Local program exceeds Grove City chamber's expectations

Alan Froman
ThisWeek group

It took less than two weeks for the Grove City Area Chamber of Commerce to sell out its supply of Buy Local gift certificates.

"We ran through $50,000 (worth of gift certificates) even faster than we expected," chamber executive director Shawn Conrad said. 

Shawn Conrad is the executive director of the Grove City Area Chamber of Commerce.

The Buy Local gift-certificate program was launched in mid-November as a partnership between the city of Grove City and the chamber.

City Council on Sept. 21 approved appropriating $50,000 to fund the program.

People were able to stop by the chamber office and purchase a gift certificate to a business participating in the Buy Local program and receive another certificate matching the amount of the gift card they had purchased.

"We sold just under 1,600 different gift certificates totaling $50,000," Conrad said. "A few $100 or $250 cards were bought, but most were in the $25 to $50 range."

Thirty-seven businesses signed up to participate in the program, but about seven or eight of them "came in a little too late," she said.

"We didn't know how quickly the gift cards would be distributed, and they were pretty much sold out by the time they signed up," Conrad said.

The Buy Local program was designed to bring more customers to brick-and-mortar businesses in Grove City, said Ed Fleming, a chamber board member who will serve as chamber president in 2021.

"It wasn't just our local businesses that benefited from the program," he said. "I've talked to some of the businesses who told me about how customers who may be facing some tough times during the pandemic were able to use the cards to make purchases they might not have been able to afford."

One woman used a gift card she had purchased for Plank's on Broadway to arrange a family celebration at home for her husband, who recently had completed cancer treatment, Fleming said.

"He had a rough round of chemo treatments, and he was able to ring the bell to celebrate, but he wasn't able to do it in front of anybody," he said. "His wife bought a $100 gift card, and through the Buy Local program, that turned into $200, and she ordered food from Plank's to take home for a special celebration.

"I've heard about people who were able to get tires put on their car because of the gift-certificate program," Fleming said.

"We've had people tell us they weren't sure if they were going to have the money for Christmas gifts this year because they had to get their car repaired," Conrad said. "They were able to save half the cost of the car repairs by buying a gift certificate, and that's allowing them to have a Christmas after all."

The Buy Local program "has succeeded beyond our wildest dreams," she said. "We couldn't be more pleased for the chamber and our members, for our local businesses, for their customers and for the city."

Mayor Richard "Ike" Stage agreed.

"This is the definition of a true partnership that benefits everyone," he said. "I'm a baseball fan, and this is what you would call a home run in the bottom of the ninth with the bases loaded."

Council member Ted Berry sponsored the original ordinance that funded the Buy Local program. 

"The whole purpose behind this program was to help support our local mom-and-pop businesses who have really been hit hard by the pandemic," Berry said. "The small businesses just don't have the marketing capabilities the larger retailers have."

Local brick-and-mortar businesses that are not part of a chain or a franchisee were eligible to sign up to participate in the program, he said.  

Stage said he and Berry are planning to present legislation to council to authorize additional funds to pay for a second round of the Buy Local program.

"We've received a lot of positive feedback from our retailers," Berry said. "Some have commented that they may not have been able to make it without the gift-certificate program and they may have had to lay off employees."

The program helped bring new customers from outside Grove City to visit local businesses, he said.

Five people used Buy Local cards at Dannette's Floral Boutique, a flower shop at 3870 Broadway in Grove City's Town Center, store owner Dannette Krugel said.

"We had some regular customers use the cards, but I loved that it gave me the chance to meet some new customers who came into our store for the first time," she said. "Even if they didn't end up buying something, they were able to look around and see what we have to offer."

The cards were used by brides-to-be to purchase flowers they will use and display during their weddings, Krugel said. 

Christie Laffin, owner of the Farm Table on 62, said she wasn't sure how the Buy Local program would work.

Pretty well, it turns out, she said.

About 50 customers used gift certificates at her shop at 3952 Broadway, Laffin said.

"It kept people shopping local because they were able to take advantage of the local dollars instead of maybe going to stores outside of Grove City," she said. "At the same time, it also brought in a lot of new customers."

The gift certificates allowed many customers to spend even more money at her store, Laffin said.

The matching gift card "gave them more money sort of free of charge, and that allowed them to maybe buy artwork by a local artist or a table that they not necessarily would have otherwise purchased," she said.

Berry said he would like to see the city consider providing funding for the Buy Local program on an annual basis even after the pandemic is over.

"Helping our local businesses make it through the pandemic was the main goal of the program, but I think it would be beneficial to do it every year, perhaps during the holiday season or in the spring," he said. "It can be a good way to help bring more people into our city to shop at our businesses."

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