For areas like Old Town, it is essential that they keep money within their local community. Many of the businesses are owned and operated by individuals who rely on their business for their livelihood.
This is easier said than done.
However, the Old Town Commercial Association has devised a program with the hope of keeping money in Old Town.
Old Town 4-3-50 is a project within community, and its goals are to support the businesses in the neighborhood and keep money in the community, according to the OTCA’s website.
Grace Schriner, owner of Grace Boutique of Old Town, first had the idea for the project.
“A national group called the 3/50 Project was the original idea,” Schriner said. “They wanted to help small businesses, so they started promoting the idea of spending $50 a month in 3 small businesses. I wanted us to do something similar for Old Town businesses, but in a way that rewards customers as well as the small businesses they shop.”
Schriner said she presented the idea to the Promotions Committee. They decided to create a program in which the year would be divided into three four month sections. Customers who wished to participate would receive a stamp card, and they would have to visit three businesses, spending at least $50 at each.
Those who completed their stamp card within the four month period would be entered into a drawing to receive a $100 gift card to be used at any of the participating businesses.
The objective of the program is to help the Old Town community thrive.
“It entices people to shop small, and gives folks who may shop only one Old Town business an incentive to shop others,” Schriner said. “It also regularly turns a $40 purchase into a $50 purchase so that customers get a stamp.”
Lauren Long, owner of Curvaceous Lingerie, said the card helps to encourage people to visit other places in Old Town.
“It spreads awareness to other businesses,” Long said. “It invites shoppers out to different places that perhaps they wouldn’t have gone before. If they can get a punch for eating someplace in Old Town versus someplace else in Lansing, why not?”
Long said that customers in her store use the card with pretty much every purchase.
Brian Ohm, a professor in the Department of Urban and Regional Planning at the University of Wisconsin – Madison with a research interest in downtown revitalization, said that many revitalized cities offer programs that encourage customers to shop locally.
“It is common for revitalized cities to encourage people to shop local in an effort to boost the local economy,” Ohm said. “Studies show that money spent in locally owned stores can have a bigger impact on the community than stores that do not have many ties to the local area.”
One of the challenges facing the project in Old Town has been making customers aware of it.
Schriner said that while each of the participating businesses is introducing customers to the project every day, they are always looking for new ways to make people aware of it.
“We are constantly trying to come up with more ways to get the word out,” Long said. “A lot of people still don’t know about it, and businesses that participate sometimes find the explanation at checkout to be a hassle. We’ve also found businesses with more staff or higher turnover (like restaurants) don’t really do a good job of informing employees about it.”
Schriner said that customers who are aware of the project and choose to participate really like it.
“People love it,” Schriner said. “They appreciate being rewarded for shopping small.”
Schriner also said that in order to make the project better, they use the feedback of customers to improve it.
“We had a request last year to make the cards business card sized, so the committee went ahead and did that,” Schriner said. “We also had a request to make an insert for restaurants’ credit card envelopes so that when people are cashing out they can see that restaurants are participating. This is something we’re working on right now.”
Long feels that the project has the potential to be more successful.
“We can’t find a way to make it easier to explain or get the word out,” Long said. “It takes awhile at checkout to explain, and not every business in Old Town participates. The more that participate the less explaining we all have to do.”
Schriner, however, believes the project has been successful because it rewards customers, encourages visiting more Old Town businesses, and encourages higher sales.
Shopping locally helps keep money in the community, and the more money that stays in the community, the more likely it will be to survive.
For a complete list of businesses that participate in Old Town 4-3-50, check out the OTCA website.