Kenai City Hall on Feb. 20, 2020, in Kenai, Alaska. (Photo by Victoria Petersen/Peninsula Clarion)

Kenai City Hall on Feb. 20, 2020, in Kenai, Alaska. (Photo by Victoria Petersen/Peninsula Clarion)

Kenai passes voucher program to boost small business

The $350,000 program is dubbed “Shop Here all Year in Kenai”

The City of Kenai will launch a $350,000 shop local program to help businesses negatively impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The program was approved by the Kenai City Council at its Wednesday meeting, which lasted for more than six hours.

Called “Shop Here all Year in Kenai,” the program aims to provide economic relief to Kenai businesses negatively impacted by COVID-19 by providing a $100 voucher to shoppers who spend $200 at participating Kenai businesses. People who spend $100 at participating businesses will also be eligible for a $50 voucher.

The program will be offered in partnership with the Kenai Chamber of Commerce and Visitor Center and will be funded with money from the city’s general fund. $335,000 will be used for direct incentives to shoppers and $15,000 will be used for administrative costs.

The city initially allocated $115,000 for the program, however, the total was increased to $350,000 through amendments during the council meeting.

As with a similar shop local program offered last year in Soldotna, shoppers will be able to submit receipts for qualifying purchases at Kenai businesses in order to receive their vouchers, which must be spent before the end of the program. Participating businesses will issue vouchers from Feb. 1 to April 1 and shoppers will have to spend their vouchers before April 30.

City council member Teea Winger offered a substitute ordinance that would have replaced the original program with one rebranded as “Million Reasons to Shop in Kenai,” with $1 million allocated to it. Council member Henry Knackstedt said $1 million would be the city putting all of its eggs in one basket.

Members of the public voiced their support for the $1 million program, however, it ultimately failed with only Winger and council member Jim Glendening voting in support.

Another amendment offered by Winger would have included groceries in discretionary purchases, however, the council struggled with how to ensure money wouldn’t be spent mostly at larger grocery stores. Ultimately, groceries were not considered qualifying discretionary purchases.

In total, the council spent about four hours discussing and amending the program.

“That was some pretty serious sausage making there,” Kenai Mayor Brian Gabriel said after the program was approved. “We haven’t done that in a while.”

On the final program as amended, all council members voted in support except Winger, who took to Facebook the next day to condemn the outcome of the meeting.

Winger said that she ultimately voted “no” on the program because she said it picks winners and losers.

“I want you to know I’m going to do everything to get that money back out to small businesses,” Winger said. “I find what we did last night completely unacceptable.”

In a memo provided to the council regarding the program, Kenai City Manager Paul Ostrander said that in determining whether or not to allocate additional funds to the program, they should also consider the other programs being developed by the city that are aimed at helping Kenai businesses negatively impacted by COVID-19, which he said will provide a “comparable benefit” to the city.

Ostrander said Friday that the total funds allocated for the program were ultimately 250% higher than what the city was initially considering and that the extension of the program’s time frame would allow for greater participation.

“This should be a positive thing,” Ostrander said, adding that Kenai’s small businesses will ultimately benefit from the program despite some negative responses.

Reach reporter Ashlyn O’Hara at

More in News

Richard Derkevorkian speaks at a borough and district work session on Tuesday, March 2 in Soldotna, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)
Borough, district step toward compromise

The board reviewed their initial request and agreed to approach the borough with a new, lower request of $50 million.

A vial of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine is seen at Central Emergency Services Station 1 on Friday, Dec. 18 in Soldotna, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)
More than 20% of peninsula residents have at least 1 vaccine dose

Alaska continues to lead the nation in vaccine rollout

(Photo provided by Kenai National Wildlife Refuge)
Applications to bait refuge black bears now available

Application requests and submissions will be done via phone or email due to COVID-19

John O’Brien remotely addresses the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly on Tuesday, February 2, 2021. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)
Borough, district to hold 2nd budget work session Tuesday

The meeting can be streamed live via Zoom or on the district’s media page

Alaska’s Chief Medical Officer Dr. Anne Zink address members of the media during a remote press conference on Monday, March 1 in Alaska. (Screenshot)
State to receive 8,900 doses of Johnson & Johnson vaccine

Alaska continues to lead the nation in vaccine rollout

Sanitization equipment is seen inside of a classroom at Kenai Middle School on Friday, Jan. 8 in Kenai, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)
School district looks ahead to potential COVID cases following spring break

Three COVID variants had been detected in Alaska as of last Wednesday

Judy Cavanaugh stands with others at a rally against the Pebble Mine in front of Sen. Lisa Murkowski’s Juneau office in June 2019.  The Army Corps of Engineers has accepted a request for administrative appeal filed by Pebble Limited Partnership. A similar effort by the state was reject, Gov. Mike Dunleavy said in a news release. (Michael Penn / Juneau Empire File)
2 Pebble appeals, 2 different outcomes

Governor says states appeal rejected, but partnership appeal moves forward.

Most Read