Iowa City Downtown District implements new gift card incentive program

The Iowa City Downtown District and the Project Better Together organization recently collaborated to create a gift card incentive program called Holding Our Own Shop Local to help support local businesses in Johnson County that were negatively impacted by closures due to COVID-19.

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Beadology is seen on Thursday, August 27, 2020.

Claire Benson, News Reporter


The Iowa City Downtown District and Project Better Together have collaborated to provide locally owned businesses opportunities to boost sales and earn back revenue lost due to COVID-19.

The two organizations worked together earlier this summer with several financial institutions to create a gift card incentive program, known as the Holding Our Own Shop Local program.

Customers scan a QR code and upload their receipts from local businesses to the Shopify website. Once they spend at least $150, they are eligible to earn a $20 gift card to participating locally-owned businesses in Johnson County.

Five dollars is also automatically donated to the Black, Indigenous, People of Color (BIPOC) and Immigrant Business Grant Fund.

Iowa City Downtown District’s Director of Operations Betsy Potter said this past March, Iowa City Downtown District had their own shopping incentive program that they initiated when stores across the nation were forced to temporarily close for health and safety reasons due to COVID-19.

Potter added that towards the end of June is when the downtown district became involved with the Project Better Together organization and created the second shopping incentive program, which launched on June 22.

The organizations reached out to several different financial institutions to assist with funding, including but not limited to: MidWestOne Bank, West Bank, GreenState Credit Union, Great Western Bank, Hills Bank, Two Rivers Bank, U.S. Bank and CBI Bank and Trust.

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Potter said Johnson County also aided in funding the initiative.

“We went out and fundraised amongst eight different banks,” Potter said, “…the county was also a financial supporter of the program to be able to incentivize a large amount of dollars, so that this program could keep coming…as of today, it’s been going on for two months.”

Potter said not only does the program offer customers convenience with online shopping and to-go orders but benefits local businesses and the community as a whole.

“We decided, ‘let’s incentivize the local shopping,’” Potter said. “You can still do online purchasing and things but [it’s] really that you’re changing your habits a little bit to go from the big Amazons of the world to our local shops, and you kind of take a second thought behind your spending and we’ll give you money back for it.”

Record Collector was forced to temporarily close their doors for several months this past spring due to COVID-19. Co-owner Bobby Larson said during this time period, the local community was very supportive with purchasing online and curb-side pickup orders, keeping the store in business.

Record Collector is involved in the Holding Our Own gift card incentive program, and Larson said he believes the program has encouraged community members to shop at the various local businesses in the downtown area.

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“I think it’s given people an incentive to shop in some of the local downtown shops for sure,” Larson said. “I think it’s been good overall. It’s helped remind people that these downtown businesses are here.”

President and Co-owner of Beadology Iowa Karen Kubby said her store was closed for several months but still provided shopping services such as online shopping, video shopping and phone orders.

Kubby said she noticed their customer base has responded very well to the new program, especially with the option to have businesses aid them in submitting their receipts.

“Not every customer is web savvy,” Kubby said, “…and some of our older customers might’ve been a little nervous about that so we provided some assistance for them.”

Kubby said this program has helped Beadology Iowa earn some additional funding that can go towards paying off debt due to not having the option of in-person shopping for several months.

“It’s been helpful to us, I mean, it’s not a huge percent of what we do in a month, but it really helps fill a gap that is still there for us,” Kubby said. “So that is critical for us, not going further into debt.”

Kubby said she believes this program is an accurate representation of the strong sense of community found within Iowa City.

“On every level, this is a very progressive and effective program,” Kubby said. “It’s so Iowa City.”

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