When Tommy O’s Pacific Rim Bistro, a longtime downtown Vancouver staple, closed in December, owner Tom Owens said he was working to continue operating his recently opened Camas location.
That effort continues five months later, but with the novel coronavirus pandemic and economic shutdown added to his plate.
“We’ve been able to keep the doors open,” Owens said. “I’m confident that we’ll make it through this and we’ll continue to support the community. … We’ve been blessed to have the support of the community.”
That backing includes “Support Local and Save,” a program that allows residents to save money on their utility bills by providing proof of purchases from local businesses. Camas implemented the program on April 10, and Ridgefield followed suit with a similar effort earlier this month.
During the economic shutdown, Camas residents can save $15 on their utility bills after providing at least $25 worth of receipts. Residents can turn in receipts in five increments, totaling $75 in savings for $125 worth of purchases.
As of Tuesday, 1,028 people have participated, Camas Finance Director Cathy Huber Nickerson said. They’ve spent $90,830 and saved $37,275 on their utility bills.
“We didn’t know what the response would be, but we thought we’d give it a try,” Huber Nickerson said. “We all need a little ‘feel good’ right now, and I think it’s making the community feel good for everybody.”
Camas’ program is based on a similar one in Newberg, Ore. A Camas resident forwarded the idea to Camas City Council Member Shannon Roberts, who then reached out to Huber Nickerson.
“She ran with it,” Roberts said. “The longer this goes on, the more important this benefit will be, I believe.”
Owens said that between 5 percent and 10 percent of his customers are making use of the program. The popularity of Tommy O’s outside of Camas has attracted customers who don’t live in the city but want to support the restaurant.
“The brand has a very loyal, supporting group of people,” Owens said. “I just feel very blessed and honored that people have stepped up and, you now, supported us through this time.”
While the quick rollout was encouraging, many residents are still unaware the program exists, Roberts said. “We’re really happy with it, but more people need to get on board.”
Ridgefield’s program, called “Shop Local and Save,” has similar parameters.
Marykay Lamoureaux, executive director of Ridgefield Main Street, said she forwarded information about the Camas program to Ridgefield City Manager Steve Stuart. She has been communicating with other downtown associations, all of which are formulating ideas to funnel customers to local businesses.
On Friday, Lamoureaux and other city residents filmed a video encouraging people to shop locally. Consumers have redeemed over $1,000 worth of the downtown association’s Main Street Moola — certificates that look like money, act as gift cards and can be purchased and redeemed downtown — in the past four weeks, Lamoureaux said.
The city’s “Shop Local” program is less than 2 weeks old, but Lamoureaux is hopeful.
“It’ll be interesting and exciting because we do know that Ridgefield is one of those cities that really supports its local businesses,” she said. “We are really grateful for the city’s support.”
Many local businesses face uncertain futures regardless of the program. But, for now, it represents another tool as they seek to remain open.
“It’s just a day-by-day, moment-by-moment thing,” Owens said. “It’s been a struggle anyway, but the support of the local business people is the only way we’re going to get through this.”