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Popular shop local program enters its second year

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For the second year in a row, Soldotna businesses are getting a boost this holiday season. The City of Soldotna's reprising its popular Holding Our Own program — which incentivizes local spending by giving shoppers $100 vouchers to use at Soldotna businesses when they spend $200 in town. 

This year’s program starts this month and is run through the Soldotna Chamber of Commerce. That was no small task last year, as receipts flooded into executive director Shanon Davis’s office.

“It was popular beyond all of our expectations," Davis said. "We did end up giving out just under 300,000 in vouchers last year.”

Over 2,800 shoppers participated in last year’s program. Just two weeks in, the city doubled the program’s funding to accommodate demand.

And other peninsula cities picked up on the buzz, too. Kenai and Seward later set up similar programs for their own businesses. Soldotna’s program was based on a popular program in Haines.

Money for Holding Our Own comes from Soldotna’s share of the federal COVID-19 relief package. City Manager Stephanie Queen said this is one of the last programs from that bucket of money to go into effect. The city has to spend all its CARES funds by the end of the year.

This year, the city is funding the program to $310,000. That’s over 3,000 vouchers.

There is one difference this year. Last season, shoppers each got two $50 vouchers to spend at two separate stores.

“For implementation reasons, we changed that this year to only one $100 voucher," Davis said. "So the amount of money is the same that people will receive, but they will only be able to choose one business to spend that money at.”

Businesses said the program was an important source of support in 2020 amid a holiday season marred by COVID-19.

Kimberly Hansen said this time of year is the calm before the storm for her business, Northcountry Fair in Soldotna.

“This time of year it is a little quieter," Hansen said. "We’re just getting ready for the holidays.”

This year, there are the added burdens on businesses, between widespread staffing issues and global supply chain chaos.

Hansen said Northcountry Fair has been struggling with those supply chain issues. 

"Oh my goodness," she said. "Yes. Yeah. It’s been awful.”

She said a lot of things they order aren’t available. Plus, add on the perpetual difficulty of shipping to Alaska.

"We’ve gotten to the point where it's kind of like, ‘Ship what you can. If you have it in stock,'” she said.

Hansen said she got a lot of business from the Holding Our Own program last year and is excited to participate again. Businesses can sign up to be part of the program starting Monday. 

Shoppers can also start saving receipts from their Soldotna purchases beginning Monday. Eligible purchases must be discretionary, so no groceries or gasoline. The chamber will accept receipts between Nov. 15 to Dec. 15.

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