By Andrea Cordle
Grove City Editor
After some debate between city leaders, Grove City Council approved additional funding for the Buy Local Certificate Program.
At the April 19 meeting, council voted to appropriate $50,000 from the general fund for the initiative that is managed by the Grove City Area Chamber of Commerce. The ordinance passed with a 3-2 vote.
This is the second round of funding for the gift certificate program. In September of 2020, council voted to use $75,000 of public funds for the program.
The Buy Local Certificate Program aims to support and market local businesses by encouraging patrons to shop and dine at local establishments. This program was created to help small businesses offset the financial effects of the novel coronavirus pandemic.
Consumers purchase a buy one, get one certificate from the chamber and receive a specific certificate up to $25.
Grove City Mayor Richard “Ike” Stage said the program has been a success. He said he spoke with several small business owners who reported that the certificate program helped to bring in new customers.
According to the legislation, 25 businesses participate in the program and in just eight business days, approximately 700 people bought nearly 1,700 gift certificates amounting to $50,000.
“Businesses were hurt by the pandemic,” said councilman Ted Berry. “We have funded grants for Town Center organizations. This branches out and focuses on small businesses.”
While councilman Randy Holt supported the legislation, he had an issue with the amount of money that was to be set aside for administration fees and marketing. The original ordinance appropriated $40,000 for the certificates with $10,000 going to administration and marketing. The first round of funding for the initiative, in 2020, included $50,000 for the certificates and $25,000 for marketing and administration fees.
Council did vote to amend the ordinance to specify that $45,000 be used for the gift certificates while $5,000 can be set aside for marketing. Council also amended the legislation to use federal stimulus dollars to reimburse the city should the program be eligible for anticipated rescue plan funding.
Not all council members were on board with funding the program.
“I’m not a fan of using tax dollars for private businesses that are members of the chamber,” said councilman Aaron Schlabach.
He compared it to a members-only club.
“It’s like a membership drive for the chamber. It just doesn’t seem right,” he said.
According to Shawn Conrad, the executive director of the Grove City Area Chamber of Commerce, there were six new businesses that joined the chamber to participate in the program. She also said it costs approximately $160 a year for a small business (with one to three employees) to be part of the chamber.
Any independent brick and mortar business that sells goods directly to consumers, who employ 20 associates or less are eligible to participate in the certificate program.
Businesses must operate within the Grove City boundaries and must be members in good standing with the chamber of commerce.
Council president Christine Houk also voted against funding the program.
“I am a supporter of the chamber, but this is not a good use of government dollars,” she said.
According to Houk, most of the funds used for this program have gone to just a handful of businesses.
“It may not have reached the businesses that needed it the most,” she said.
Houk said she would prefer the buy local certificate program be funded and administered through a non-profit organization.
Per the legislation, the chamber will give the city a list of members who participate in the program. The chamber will also provide weekly or monthly receipts to the city so officials can keep track of money spent.
For more information on the Buy Local Certificate Program, visit www.gcchamber.org.