Monday, February 6, 2023
Feb. 6, 2023

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Greater Vancouver Chamber’s Grow the (360) program aims to boost local businesses

Gift certificates can be used at dozens of participating merchants

By , Columbian staff writer
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Katie Atkinson of the Greater Vancouver Chamber, left, talks with barista Sasha Glazyrin as she redeems her Grow the (360) gift certificate at Relevant Coffee in Vancouver's Uptown Village.
Katie Atkinson of the Greater Vancouver Chamber, left, talks with barista Sasha Glazyrin as she redeems her Grow the (360) gift certificate at Relevant Coffee in Vancouver's Uptown Village. (Amanda Cowan/The Columbian) Photo Gallery

As Janet Kenefsky works on her computer, she checks on her Grow the (360) gift certificate program. Grow the (360) enables consumers to buy gift certificates that can be redeemed at retailers and restaurants around the greater Vancouver area.

With the click of her mouse, Kenefsky, vice president of membership and operations at the Greater Vancouver Chamber, can check every week to see where the certificates are being redeemed.

“We see people purchasing them every single day. We see redemptions every single day,” Kenefsky said.

In any given week, people are redeeming their gift certificates in up to 20 different industries — sometimes on splurges, such as at a jeweler, and sometimes on necessities, such as at an optometrist.

“There’s something for everybody on there,” she said.

As of mid-November, there were $74,000 worth of gift certificates in circulation.

OMW Uptown Market is a newer shop that opened in March at 207 E. McLoughlin Blvd. in Vancouver. Poppy Kitchen owns the little market, which combines fresh baked goods with other desirable items that people may want to grab on their way home.

Kitchen has only redeemed one gift certificate so far, but she is optimistic that it will bring in new customers.

“I’m excited with the publicity that the Chamber is giving it,” Kitchen told The Columbian. “I think it will help our sales.”

The program dates back to 2019, with the intention of rolling it out in May 2020 during Vancouver Small Business Month.

As the COVID-19 pandemic hit, it became clear the community’s small businesses needed the program more than ever. So it was rolled out early.

“It ended up being just an incredible resource to keep money local,” Kenefsky said.

The early days of the pandemic saw a tidal wave of consumers around the world buying gift cards to support their local small businesses. If any of those businesses closed down, consumers would be left with gift cards that couldn’t be used. So, the tidal wave dissipated and fewer people began buying gift cards.

“Because people stopped buying gift certificates that meant there wasn’t money coming into the community, which prompted us to roll out the program a lot quicker,” Kenefsky said.

The program has grown, with more merchants participating in it and more corporations buying certificates for employees.

A new software upgrade has allowed folks to keep their certificates on their cellphones in virtual wallets. Soon, a push notification feature will be added to ping those with the certificates in their virtual wallets and alert them if they’re near a location that accepts them.

“No more leaving it on the kitchen table, forgetting to use it when they’re out and about,” Kenefsky said.

There are about 70 merchants participating in the program, and the chamber hopes to recruit another 30 by the end of the year.

Kenefsky expects the program to be beneficial to businesses when there’s disruption due to construction, like during the pending renovation of downtown Vancouver’s Main Street.

Relevant Coffee, 1703 Main St., began redeeming the gift certificates just this month.

“Relevant has always been a place to spur on community,” said Brian Clemens, co-owner, roaster and head of operations at Relevant Coffee.

The coffee shop, which opened three years ago, has become a community gathering spot, serving everyone from business associates out to coffee to parents with strollers looking for their morning pick-me-up.

The gift certificates can be redeemed on drinks, beans, merchandise and apparel.

“We really, really embrace the community,” reiterated co-owner Mitchell Montgomery. “By partnering with the Chamber and trying to bring that money into local businesses, it really does keep the money here in our local community.”

And community is what Relevant is all about, he added.