Kenai’s local businesses are hopeful the new shop local program, which is being offered in partnership with the city and with the Kenai Chamber of Commerce and Visitor Center, will start to pay off for them.
The program, called “Shop Here All Year in Kenai,” went live on Feb. 1 and incentivizes spending at Kenai businesses by giving shoppers vouchers for spending money on discretionary items.
Dustin Aaronson, who owns Copy Cats and Old Town Music on Frontage Road in Kenai, is participating in the program. Aaronson said that he hasn’t seen any vouchers yet, but that he’s glad that more money is going into the community. When other businesses don’t do well, Aaronson said, his business doesn’t do well. He said he’s been able to take advantage of some of the city’s other business relief programs, which allowed him to do some repairs, and that he thinks they’ve done a good job with the programs they’ve offered.
“I think it’s important for a small town to have a place where you can come in and get a pack of guitar strings and maybe get your mandolin fixed,” Aaronson said. “It’s a slow town. No one’s getting rich here, but it’s OK … There’s a lot worse places to wile away your time on this planet.”
Through the program, people who spend $200 on qualifying items are given a $100 voucher to spend at participating businesses and people who spent $100 are given a $50 voucher. Vouchers are issued on a first-come, first-served basis until April 1 or when funds run out and must be spent by April 30. The Kenai City Council approved $350,000 for the program during their Jan. 20 meeting.
The Kenai Chamber of Commerce and Visitor Center said Friday that, since the program began, they had distributed just under 200 vouchers, including 172 $100 vouchers and 21 $50 vouchers. As of Friday, 51 Kenai businesses had signed up to participate in the program, which had already seen more than 300 participants.
Another participating business is JMJ Tax Relief, LLC, a tax preparation business located on Kenai Spur Highway.
JMJ Admin Assistant Laura Brown said Friday that no one has used vouchers with them yet, but that it’s right in the middle of tax season and they serve more than 300 clients. Brown said that the last year was a bit sporadic for JMJ, in part due to last year’s tax season, which was drawn out in response to the pandemic, and in part due to an influx of new clients who, she said, wanted to take advantage of stimulus money.
“It was kind of a weird year last year,” Brown said.
Brown also said that while they are glad to be participating in Kenai’s shop local program, she wishes the program would have been limited to small businesses and excluded large retailers like Walmart.
“We’re very shop local people, you know, and we just want to give people a chance to use the voucher to do their taxes,” Brown said.
Less than half a mile away on Attla Way is Already Read bookstore, which is hard to miss due to its bright violet exterior.
Already Read owner Benjamin Jackinsky said that they had closed the shop for a few of months last March, as COVID began to take off in the United States, but that they’re doing OK now. Employee Sarah O’Brien said Friday that they’ve already seen a few vouchers come into the store and that she’s been trying to advertise the program to customers when they check out.
“I think it’s an amazing program. I was happy to have it done in Kenai,” O’Brien said. “We have had people collecting receipts for that program, and that has been on the uptick every day.”
Under the program, shoppers are able to submit up to 10 receipts totalling either $100 or $200, however, the business must have a Kenai address. Initial purchases can be made at any business in Kenai, whether or not they are participating in the program. Vouchers can only be spent at participating businesses. Items that qualify for the program include discretionary items, such as clothing, books, sporting goods, books, and meals at restaurants, among others. Non-discretionary items that are not eligible for the program include groceries, alcohol, medical bills or utilities, among other things.
People who are unsure whether or not a business is located in Kenai city limits have been encouraged by the Kenai Chamber of Commerce and Visitor Center to check the city’s interactive zoning map, which allows users to directly input addresses. That map can be accessed at kenai.maps.arcgis.com.
More information about the program can be found on the Kenai Chamber of Commerce and Visitor Center website at kenaichamber.org.
Reach reporter Ashlyn O’Hara at email@example.com.