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CARES-funded gift certificates sell out again

Banking off the overwhelmingly positive response of the program’s first round in November, Isle of Wight officials once again declared the second round of the #IsleShopSmall program in December a resounding success.

Here’s how the program worked: when a customer purchased a gift certificate for a locally-based business, each dollar spent was doubled in value using federal CARES Act funding allocated to the county — so a $20 gift certificate was valued at $40.

In the second round, Isle of Wight allocated an additional $200,000 in CARES funds and Smithfield increased its contribution to $100,000. Windsor also contributed program funding.

“This was a tremendous success,” said Jessica Jones-Healey, the Isle of Wight Chamber of Commerce’s president and CEO. “We sold out again for the money that we had allocated. It took a little bit longer this time, because we had triple the funds. That’s why we did a two-day sale,” she said.

Together, Jones-Healey said, both rounds of the program generated $813,480 and 20,337 vouchers were purchased. And 105 businesses had a sale through the initiative.

They plan to formally share this information with the public and the Isle of Wight County Board of Supervisors on Jan. 21. In the meantime, the chamber began handing out checks to businesses on Jan. 5.

The program’s first round in November was so popular, overwhelming user demand crashed the third-party website that customers logged onto to purchase the gift certificates. And when they fixed the technical issues and held a do-over the next day, the program sold out in 90 minutes.

“The second time there were no glitches or anything like that,” Jones-Healey said. “There was still a lot of high traffic on the website, but the server handled it just fine. Everyone seemed to be happy with their experience.”

Chris Morello, Isle of Wight County’s director of economic development, echoed that sentiment.

“We have had such an overwhelmingly positive response to both rounds of this stimulus program, so being a part of helping both consumers and businesses has been extremely gratifying for county officials,” Morello said.

Smithfield and Isle of Wight County Tourism, Isle of Wight County Economic Development and the Isle of Wight Chamber of Commerce worked together on both rounds of the gift certificate program.

“Another great benefit for my department, especially, has been teaming up with the chamber and tourism to focus on the effort together,” Morello continued. “All of us are grateful to our elected officials for taking swift action to allocate the CARES Act funds for the match, and give the local economy a really meaningful boost during this difficult time for our business community.”

In addition to sustained high interest, Jones-Healey said a notable difference in the second round was that people seemed to pivot from Christmas and holiday shopping.

The second time around, “we did see more service-based businesses having purchases this time that only locals would use” — businesses like dental offices, car repair shops, fitness centers and hair salons. “That was nice to see,” she said.

Gift certificates purchased during the program’s second round are valid all this year through Dec. 31.