Kenai is pursuing its own shop local program this spring, called “Shop Here All Year in Kenai.”
Much like the program in Soldotna, which ran in November and December, it rewards shoppers who spend $200 on discretionary purchases in Kenai with $100 vouchers for Kenai businesses. Those who spend $100 will get vouchers for $50.
Funding for the program comes from the city’s general fund. Kenai has already doled out over $2 million in relief to small businesses throughout the pandemic, and was the first city in Alaska to get a small business relief program set up last year.
The concept was a no-brainer for the Kenai City Council at Wednesday’s meeting. But members spent several hours discussing how much they should appropriate for the program.
“Is $100,000 not enough? Maybe not. Is a million dollars too much? I think it is," said Kenai Mayor Brian Gabriel.
The council ultimately decided to provision $335,000 for the program, with an additional $15,000 to cover administrative costs. It's over three times more than what the city had originally suggested.
But it was less than what council member Teea Winger proposed in a substitute ordinance. She asked the city to allocate $1 million to the program, and to match spending one-to-one.
The council voted that amendment down. Member Henry Knackstedt said he’d rather the council make adjustments as it sees how the program goes.
“The substitute ordinance essentially puts all of our eggs in one basket," he said. "And I don’t think it’s a good fiscal strategy to do that.”
The city can appropriate more money for the program down the line. Soldotna doubled the funds it put toward its shop local program in December.
Winger also proposed opening the program to locally owned grocery stores, like Three Bears.
“The thing that the administration put forward does not include every business. So it is picking losers and winners.," she said. "And so in my proposals, this is saying all small business is valuable, no matter how big or small you are. And that we value you, and we’re not going to sit here and pick what business is a priority to us.”
That proposal didn’t pass. Councilmembers worried a large chunk of shopping would happen at supermarkets. They also raised concerns about differentiating national chains and local grocery stores.
The council did approve a $100 minimum spending tier, geared toward families who can’t afford to spend $200.
It also extended the time frame of the program. Vouchers will be issued between Feb. 1 and April 1. Shoppers will have to spend their vouchers by April 30.
The program passed, with all but Winger voting yes.
“That was some pretty serious sausage-making there," said Gabriel after the final vote. "We haven’t done that in a while.”
The Shop Here All Year program will begin Feb. 1. The program is administered by the Kenai Chamber of Commerce.