Businesses, customers cash in with Main Street Dollars

emoody@beaufortgazette.comOctober 15, 2012 

Nan Sutton's customers love shopping at her Lulu Burgess store for half-price. And she loves getting paid full price.

So she is looking forward to the return of Main Street Dollars, a program that allows customers to purchase vouchers worth twice what they paid for them. The "dollars" can then be exchanged for merchandise or services at participating businesses, and the businesses are reimbursed at full price by Main Street Beaufort, USA.

"The customers love it," she said. "They can come into their favorite stores and get something half-off."

When the next round will occur, however, is a surprise, according to Main Street Beaufort executive director LaNelle Fabian.

The organization sold $7,500 worth of certificates with a face value of $15,000. It then used $7,500 from its marketing fund to make up the difference when reimbursing participants.

The program was launched in February and again in August -- typically slow months -- to gauge its effectiveness.

"It's worth it, we think, and the merchants are telling us it was worth it," she said. "We just don't want people to get so used to it that they won't go out and spend," because they're waiting for the certificates.

Although a few hundred dollars in certificates had not been turned in by businesses as of Monday, Fabian said the numbers appear similar to the first round of the program. Then, $14,380 in certificates was used at 41 merchants, with total sales of more than $20,000 between Feb. 18 and March 31.

This time, $14,190 in certificates was used at 43 businesses, with total sales of more than $18,000, according to receipts so far.

Main Street and participating merchants believe the economic boost exceeded the face value of the dollars sold because many customers used real money, in addition to their certificates, on some purchases.

"What is really neat is, the consumers who are coming through are just excited and pumped about spending their 'Monopoly money,' per say," said Bay Street Jewelers owner Mark Stokes.

He praised the program for not costing the businesses anything, providing customers with a discount and giving downtown a boost of energy and money.

"Look at how many people are in town," he said. "It's great to see people in the park and in the downtown, and it's even better when they have bags in their hands."

About $8,300 in certificates was spent in retail shops, $5,200 in restaurants and $760 on services in February. In August, the amounts spent were $8,190 in retail, $5,585 in restaurants and $1,450 on services.

Not everyone, however, reaped benefits this round.

At Divine Shoes, five customers used the dollars in February and none in August, according to owner Kathy Kilgore. She was still excited about the program and wants to continue to participate.

"I think it's a great program, and I was surprised the first time that we got the response in our store because I figured they would get used in the restaurants and gift stores," she said of the February promotion.

Follow reporter Erin Moody at twitter.com/EyeonBeaufort.

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