SMITHFIELD, Va. (WAVY) – The Isle of Wight shop small promotion was such a huge success, it sold out in just a day.
On Tuesday, Nov. 10 at 3 p.m. the county’s “Isle Shop Small” launched a gift card match program that allows consumers to receive a voucher to a local business that is worth double what they pay for it.
The host site crashed that day, so the county opened the website again at 3 p.m. on Wednesday as well. They sold out by 4:39 p.m. that day.
The goal was to help local businesses get a leg up on the already crucial holiday shopping season, which has become exponentially more important with the devastating economic effects of COVID-19.
“Everyone is so excited,” said Jessica Jones-Healey, president of the Isle of Wight Chamber of Commerce. “Today … we had so many folks calling in just excited about this program they want to make sure they don’t miss it.”
The chamber along with the Isle of Wight County Department of Tourism and Economic Development is running the program that was approved by Isle of Wight County Board of Supervisors, the Town of Smithfield and the Town of Windsor.
$100,000 in federal CARES Act funding was approved to help fund the match. This is the same money that other localities have used to provide hazard pay to employees and help businesses adapt to new health and safety rules.
Program organizers will have the privilege of delivering $200,000 to local business.
“We thought how can we make this a win-win for both the businesses, as well as the consumers,” Jones-Healey said about the creation of the program that is the only one of its kind so far in Hampton Roads. Mecklenburg County is also running something similar.
There are nearly 100 participating businesses, which include restaurants, boutiques and even a golf club.
Customers who got in on the deal were able to buy up to five $20 individual gift cards that in actuality will be worth $40 each.
Once they checked out, a digital certificate was sent to them via email with a unique serial number. The certificate will have to be printed out to be used at the business which will be accepted for an entire year starting Black Friday.
“It is limited to five because we want to spread the love and spread the wealth among as many people as we can,” Jones-Healey said.
Those who didn’t want to purchase online, could also do so at the Smithfield Visitors Center.
“Anything they can do to help is wonderful,” said Randy Pack, who co-owns the Smithfield Station Restaurant and Hotel.
When it comes to the lodging side of his business, it’s the lack of corporate travel that’s hurting. Typically, rooms are filled by those coming in for work at Smithfield Packing Company or the Surry Power Station.
Pack, who also sits on the Smithfield Town Council says the gift cards will help the tax base too.
“It puts meals tax back in the community. It puts an occupancy tax back in the community. So they are able to use the CARES money and people have some skin in the game too, so it’s a fantastic program,” Pack said.
Meanwhile, one local business owner believes the gift cards will be immensely popular.
“I think they’re going to be sold out just right away, I really do,” said Kristin Wilda, owner of Maggie Casey’s Celtic Treasure in downtown Smithfield. “It really is a wonderful program and I’m really grateful to be a part of it.”
Wilda, who has owned the store specializing in products imported from Ireland and Scotland said the closure of Busch Gardens Williamsburg has hurt her business more than people would think.
Wilda said many tourists find the historic downtown district after they ride the Jamestown-Scottland Ferry. That hasn’t happened as much this year.
The money from the gift cards ultimately purchased and the matching CARES Act funding will be sent to the businesses within two weeks.
“The money that you make during the late fall during the holiday weeks. That’s what sustains you all year long,” Wilda said.
She says in a year where she had to close for two months, this program could help save businesses.
“So that we can stay open into 2021 and beyond,” Wilda said.
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