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Soldotna doubles down on popular shop local program

Sabine Poux/KDLL

Soldotna shoppers blew through the $100,000 set aside for the Holding Our Own shop local program. With two weeks left to go, the city’s doubling the amount of funds available.

“Going into the program, we had all talked about the fact that we had no idea how the program would go, how enthusiastic people would be so we just settled on the $100,000 hoping that that that was a good number," said Shanon Davis, executive director of the Soldotna Chamber of Commerce.

The chamber rolled out Holding Our Own in November to incentive shopping locally through a voucher system. Those who spend $200 or more at Soldotna stores get two $50 vouchers to redeem at participating businesses.

The city allocated $100,000 of its CARES Act funding toward the program, a total of 2,000 vouchers. But that wasn’t enough. By Dec. 3, just two and a half weeks into the program, all the vouchers had been claimed.

Davis said the city made clear it would contribute more funds if needed.

“And we knew that if we had a lot of requests immediately following Black Friday, we would probably need to look at more funding. And that’s certainly what happened," she said.

Davis says she got 200 receipt submissions after this weekend. That’s $20,000 in vouchers.

Most days, the chamber sees 60 receipt submissions via the online form and 20 at the drop-off box outside its building.

The chamber did get a preview that Holding Our Own would be popular. Soldotna based its program off a similar one in Haines, called “Shop Local and Save.” When funds for that program ran out, the Haines Borough opened a second round.

Then, a week in, the borough had to close that program early because shoppers maxed out applications for vouchers.

Davis tapped the executive director from the Haines Chamber of Commerce for advice. She said she hasn’t heard from any other Alaska cities that are looking for similar guidance but she’d be excited to help if asked.

In Haines, businesses most coveted for vouchers included a lumber store, sport shop and bookstore. In Soldotna, the most commonly requested vouchers have been for businesses that have done their own advertising of the program.

“We have a few businesses who have just really embraced this program and are marketing the heck out of it to everybody who walks through their doors," Davis said. "So to call out a few, Northcountry Fair is doing a phenomenal job. Alaskan Bullion & Coin has done an amazing job. Also St. Elias Brewing Company, they are actually offering a promotion to anybody who’s bringing in their vouchers that they get a little bit of extra money on top of the $50 voucher. So those businesses that are really promoting the program are receiving a lot of the vouchers back.”

Kimberly Hansen, owner of Northcountry Fair, said she thinks the program has brought more shoppers into her store.

“After the year everyone’s had, it’s been a nice thing to see people excited about something and just be able to pour it back into the community is huge," she said.

Some businesses, like Soldotna Trustworthy Hardware and Fishing, signed up because so many people requested vouchers from them, Davis said. There are currently 53 businesses signed up.

To participate, shoppers can collect their vouchers by Dec. 16 and spend them by the end of the year. Note that the $200 required to get a voucher must be discretionary, meaning expenses like rent, groceries and gas don’t count.

For more information, visit the Soldotna Chamber of Commerce website.

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