Posted September 10, 2013 by Tameka Riley in Blog

City Embraces Gift Cards – Iowa City turns to gift cards to boost downtown businesses

Iowa City turns to gift cards to boost downtown businesses
Iowa City turns to gift cards to boost downtown businesses

Keep Austin Weird. Many people don’t realize that the slogan that is now so closely associated with the quirky capital city of Texas was originally coined as a rallying cry for citizens to favor local businesses over national chains with their spending dollars.

Austin’s efforts to bolster local businesses has been successful enough that other cities, like Louisville, Kentucky, have swiped the exact same phrase and used it as a way for restaurants, bars and clothing stores to brand themselves. Now there’s another way for businesses to band together to encourage their friends and neighbors to patronize their shops: by starting a gift card program.

According to a story in The Daily Iowan, that’s exactly what businesses in the Downtown District of Iowa City did this past Aug. The idea was the brainchild of the Downtown District, which cited the success of other cities like Des Moines in offering a single gift card that can be utilized at numerous businesses in a small geographic area.

In her story, reporter Gabriela Dunn writes that the gift card program cost $7,000 to launch and that 85 of 280 downtown businesses have agreed to accept the cards. According to Betsy Potter, the Downtown District operations director, local businesses have been vocal in their desire for a gift card program to be started. “The initial reason for the program was that we heard from a lot of our businesses that a downtown gift card would be beneficial for them,” Potter told the newspaper, which chronicles events in the hometown of the University of Iowa. “We got almost weekly calls asking if there was a community gift card.”

So far, only four people have signed up to get a card, which cost $1.50 to activate. But Potter said that her organization has yet to do any marketing and was unconcerned about the meager initial response. Still, Patrick Barron, a University of Iowa economics lecturer, told the newspaper he was skeptical about the program’s prospects. “Frankly, looking at it from a customer perspective, I don’t see why I would buy a card if I don’t get a discount or incentive.”

Tameka Riley