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IW offers more CARES-funded gift certificates

Isle of Wight County and the towns of Smithfield and Windsor have contributed additional portions of their Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act allocations to fund a second round of the #IsleShopSmall gift certificate program — intended to keep local businesses afloat during and after the COVID-19 pandemic.

Modeled off a similar initiative in Mecklenburg County, #IsleShopSmall allows locals and tourists to purchase up to five $40 gift certificates for participating county businesses, while spending only $20 apiece. The remaining half of each gift certificate’s face value is funded with CARES Act money. The combined $40 from each sale goes directly to the business regardless of when the gift certificate is used.

During the first round, the county and two towns allocated a combined $105,000 in CARES money — which resulted in 5,000 gift certificates selling out in 1-1/2 hours. Upwards of 8,000 people had tried to buy gift certificates online at the same time during the first sales window on Nov. 10, causing the e-commerce website to crash. A new sales window was rescheduled for Nov. 11.

Eighty-three of the 98 participating businesses had at least one gift certificate purchased for their establishment, with the most popular receiving $17,000 from the program. According to Jessica Jones Healy, president of the Isle of Wight Chamber of Commerce, which is administering the gift certificate program, consumer interest was spread “pretty evenly” among all the participating businesses, with most receiving checks for several thousand dollars.

This time around, the county alone has allocated an additional $200,000 in CARES funds and Smithfield has increased its contribution to $100,000 — enough to inject over half a million dollars into the local economy with the match from residents. To avoid the system crashes from last time, the Dec. 9 sales window for Round No. 2 has been split into two time slots: 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. and 6 to 8 p.m.

“We are hoping that will split the traffic up a little bit,” Healy said. The third-party tech company the Chamber had contracted to maintain the e-commerce site has also “made some upgrades on their end for this second round.”

Even with the additional CARES Act money, the Chamber is still anticipating that Round No. 2 will also sell out.

The county will offer in-person purchasing options at the visitors’ center in Smithfield and at the Windsor Town Center, intended for only Isle of Wight residents without internet access. Buying in-person isn’t any quicker than buying online, said Judy Winslow, director of tourism for Smithfield and Isle of Wight County. In fact, “You are first in line at home.”

So far, each business that opted into Round No. 1 has also opted into Round No. 2, and 10 additional businesses have signed up that didn’t participate in the first round. The deadline for businesses to sign up to participate is Dec. 3. Businesses can sign up at www.theisle.biz/gift-certificate-program.

Purchasers who spent $100 for the five certificates per household maximum during Round No. 1 will be ineligible to purchase additional certificates during the second round.

The second round gift certificates will be redeemable any time on or after Jan. 9 and will remain valid through Dec. 31, 2021.