Vt. town creates its own currency to encourage shopping

Published: Oct. 28, 2020 at 5:33 PM EDT
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HARTFORD, Vt. (WCAX) - As COVID-19 cases rise, with the winter months quickly approaching, small businesses hard hit by the pandemic are worrying about the future. But, in Hartford, shoppers have an added incentive to spend money in the stores.

The cash registers are ringing at Juel in downtown White River Junction. The healthy fast-food modern apothecary café, like many businesses, is bouncing back from a difficult few months earlier this year.

“It was definitely a hit to business and we had to reinvent ourselves like a lot of people. You know we pivoted to online order,” said Juel co-owner Elena Corinn Taylor.

But now, smoothie lovers have another reason to stop by. A new currency exclusively for Hartford stores.

“It’s called Hartford dollars,” said P.J. Skehan with the Harford Area Chamber of Commerce.

The Hartford Area Chamber of Commerce teamed up with Vital Communities, a local nonprofit, for the new program. The way it works, shoppers purchase coupons online for $15 and $25. They are worth double in the participating stores. A $10,000 grant for the Agency of Commerce and Community Development makes up the difference.

“Ten-thousand dollars is not a lot, but what it does, it’s a stimulus. So, it creates traffic into the stores,” Skehan said.

The coupons sold out almost overnight.

Taylor says she’s only seen a couple so far but everything helps.

“There is such a sense of community and I feel like the Hartford dollars is one piece of that,” she said.

And it’s not just about money.

“It really is emotional support as well. Just knowing that the community we love also loves us,” said Piecemeal Pies owner Justin Barrett.

Some 80% of the food sold in this store is sourced from local farms.

“It is easy to go across the river into West Lebanon, big box stores and spend money there. But, keeping those dollars close to home,” Barrett said.

Shoppers have until Nov. 30 to spend the money but town officials are looking for alternative revenue sources to keep the program long term. After all, the holiday shopping season is right around the corner.

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