Benjamin Jackinsky (left) and Sarah O’Brien conduct business in Already Read on Friday, Feb. 19 in Kenai, Alaska.

Benjamin Jackinsky (left) and Sarah O’Brien conduct business in Already Read on Friday, Feb. 19 in Kenai, Alaska.

Trends: Shop local programs a hit with businesses, consumers

Soldotna was the first city on the peninsula to offer a shop local program, which went live at the end of 2020.

Several of the recovery programs offered on the peninsula have been aimed at spurring local spending. Shop local programs were offered in Soldotna, Seward and Kenai, where a program is currently running. The concept is simple: Offer vouchers to people who spend a certain amount of money on discretionary items at qualifying businesses.

Soldotna was the first city on the peninsula to offer a shop local program, which went live at the end of 2020. They offered vouchers to people who spent money at participating Soldotna businesses. Ultimately, their program generated more than $850,000 in local spending, according to the city’s Popular Annual Financial Report, and saw more than 2,800 shoppers and 58 local businesses participate.

To offer the program, the city partnered with the Soldotna Chamber of Commerce. Soldotna Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Shanon Davis said Wednesday that she thinks one of the reasons the program was so successful was because they hit a “sweet spot” with the timing.

“Everybody was just so much in the holiday spirit and wanting to support the local community, but also just in the spirit of giving during that time,” Davis said. “It just seemed to be the perfect combination of, between the partnership with the city and the chamber, wanting to support local shopping and then the community wanting to support their local businesses.”

Davis said that, looking ahead, the chamber plans to continue partnering with the city for future programs aimed at helping local businesses. Those include helping advertise businesses who take advantage of future grant programs offered by the city, marketing tourism in Soldotna to Alaska residents over the summer and partnering with the city to offer another shop local program at the end of this year.

After Soldotna’s shop local program ended, Davis said other cities on the peninsula reached out to her about doing their own programs.

In Kenai, the city launched two programs aimed at helping local shoppers. First, they approved a “Shop Here All Year in Kenai,” program, which was similar to the one offered in Soldotna. As of March 17, more than 50 businesses had signed up to participate. The Kenai City Council extended the program for an additional month during their March 17 meeting.

Kenai also approved a second program with the specific goal of helping people buy groceries and other essential household goods at Kenai businesses. The Kenai City Council approved $215,000 for the program, which went live on March 1. By March 10, the Kenai Chamber of Commerce and Visitor Center announced that they had run out of funds for the program and handed out the last voucher.

Reach reporter Ashlyn O’Hara at ashlyn.ohara@peninsulaclarion.com.

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