Grove City's Buy Local: City and chamber's certificate program expected to return in June

Alan Froman
ThisWeek group

Grove City's Buy Local Certificate program is returning for a second round in 2021.

The second round is expected to launch June 1 or shortly thereafter, said Shawn Conrad, executive director of the Grove City Area Chamber of Commerce.

The chamber again will administer the program and has begun recruiting local businesses to participate, she said.

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

The program is open to businesses that are chamber members.

Grove City Council on April 19 approved legislation to appropriate $50,000 from the general fund to bankroll the program.

The ordinance was amended to reduce the amount of money designated to administer the program from $10,000 to $5,000.

The remaining $45,000 will be used for the gift certificates themselves.

Once the Buy Local program is launched in June, customers will be able to purchase a gift certificate to be used at a specific participating business and receive a matching gift certificate, Conrad said.

In essence, the Buy Local program allows people to double their money, she said.

Some changes have been made to this year's program.

Gift certificates will be sold in only $25 denominations, and each household will be limited to buying two certificates during the second round, Conrad said.

"We wanted to spread the dollars around to the greatest number of businesses we could," she said.

Last year, customers could purchase an unlimited number of certificates for denominations up to $250, Conrad said, and the $50,000 in gift certificates sold out in eight business days.

The speed at which customers exhausted the $50,000 available for the certificates was surprising, Conrad said, and kept chamber staff hopping.

Gift certificates will be available for purchase again either at the chamber office at 4069 Broadway or online at gcchamber.org.

The Buy Local program is designed to support small brick-and-mortar businesses throughout Grove City, Conrad said.

"It's not open to chain businesses or large employers," she said. "The overall goal is to help keep customers' money locally to support our local businesses."

The council's vote April 19 mimicked the result in September 2020, when the legislation to approve the inaugural Buy Local program was adapted.

Again, council president Christine Houk and council member Aaron Schlabach voted against the ordinance.

Although he supports the chamber and what it does for local businesses, Schlabach said, he voted against the measure because "I'm not a fan of city money – tax revenue – going to a private entity that will only be helping the businesses that are members of that entity."

The setup "almost reads as a membership drive for the chamber," he said. "'If you want this city money, you have to join a separate entity to access the money the city gets from tax revenue."

Houk said although she is "a huge supporter of the chamber," she still doesn't believe taxpayer funds should be used for such a program.

There's some question in her mind between the perception of "the proclaimed success" of last year's Buy Local program and the actual outcome, she said.

Some transactions at local businesses that are credited to the Buy Local program might have occurred anyway, particularly because the program ran during the holiday season, Houk said.

The ordinance approved April 19 states that the 2020 program included 25 participating businesses and 358 participating households. It also states that nearly 700 purchasers bought almost 1,700 gift certificates totaling $50,000.

It might be difficult to precisely calculate how much was spent at local businesses due to the gift-certificate program, Mayor Richard "Ike" Stage said.

But "there is also a compounding effect of just the fact that the dollars are spent because what was sold to (customers) in certificates doesn't mean that's all that was spent," he said.

"I think we have a program that isn't broken," Stage said.

In 2020, several businesses wanted to sign up to participate in the program, but the gift certificates already had sold out, Conrad said.

Council amended the April 19 ordinance to add a new section that the general fund would be reimbursed the $50,000 from anticipated American Rescue Plan funds if the Buy Local program is determined to be an eligible expenditure.

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