Boris Tsang / Sun Photography Editor

The Downtown Ithaca Alliance has paired with non-essential business to start a gift card program.

April 20, 2020

DIA Bolsters Struggling Downtown Businesses With Gift Card Program

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The Downtown Ithaca Alliance partnered with fifteen non-essential businesses to launch a universal gift card redeemable at over 100 locations, a bonus aimed at encouraging residents to support struggling downtown shops that have now been closed for almost a month.

Receiving the gift card for shopping at each participating store involves different spending guidelines. For instance, the purchase of any online gift card from Breathe will include a free $5 DIA gift card, while spending $25 or more at the Brain Shoppe nets the same bonus.

“The gift cards have been very well received,” according to DIA Business Outreach Coordinator Kristen Thelen. “Some businesses wanted a lot, some wanted a little. We handled it on a case-by-case basis.”

“It’s been a great success,” Thelen said, noting that the DIA has already had to resupply some businesses that ran out of the gift cards they had originally received.

Petrune, a vintage and modern clothing store located at 126 E St. St., is one of the participants in the gift card program. Despite only having given away one out of 10 gift cards the store received last week, owner Domenica Brockman is happy with the initiative.

“The program is great,” Brockman said, adding that the cards are “a nice perk to offer shoppers.”

Not all businesses in the Commons are participating in the program, according to Thelen. Some downtown businesses that remained stable during this time did not opt into the program so that harder-hit businesses would have access to more funds, she said.

When seeking support from programs like these, corporate-owned stores are in a different position, according to Austin Swick, an employee at Exscape, a tobacco store chain with locations around New York State, including one on the Commons.

Swick, who hadn’t heard of the DIA’s gift card program, said that he was not sure if the store’s corporate management was notified of its eligibility to participate. Still, if he had known about it, he was skeptical that it would have helped.

“Sometimes it can be tough to get a hold of the right people in our upper ladder,” Swick said. “It’s hard to talk to someone who can actually make us able to participate in that.”

Swick said that business has been steady — though much slower — and that if corporate had known about the program, they likely would have participated.

In addition to rolling out the gift card program, the DIA, in cooperation with the Ithaca Chamber of Commerce, Ithaca Urban Renewal Agency, Tompkins County Development Corporation and Cornell University, created a $390,000 COVID-19 Small Business Resilience Fund.

The program offers small businesses in the city zero percent interest microloans of up to $5,000. The loan has an 18 month term and is forgivable if the business retains its employees. It is currently closed to new applicants.

Ari Dubow ‘21 contributed reporting.