Vermont Gift Card Giveaway Draws Crush of Interest

The Buy Local Vermont shopping incentive program was designed to spark spending at small businesses

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There was a mad dash for deals Tuesday across Vermont, with shoppers signing up to receive free credits to small business.

The offer, meant to extend a lifeline to struggling mom and pop operations during the coronavirus pandemic, was so popular that the Vermont Agency of Commerce and Community Development said funds ran dry before some people could take part.

“While it’s not nearly enough, it’s a start,” Gov. Phil Scott said Tuesday of the Buy Local Vermont incentive program.

The commerce agency is using $500,000 in federal CARES Act funding to match shoppers who live in Vermont with small businesses eager for foot traffic during the pandemic.

On a first-come first-served basis, consumers could pick categories and areas of the state they were interested in and get a $30 digital gift card designed to spark sales quickly.

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Robin’s Hoods was one of more than 1,500 Vermont businesses — everything from shoe stores to spas and restaurants, landscapers and small newspapers — that signed up to accept a Buy Local Vermont credit.

“We all really need the support of local people right now to ensure that we can continue to do what we do in this beautiful state,” said hat maker Robin Leone of Robin’s Hoods.

For Leone, selling her colorful and often custom handmade wool hats got a lot tougher this year, after eight major fine arts and crafts shows were wiped off her calendar by COVID-19.

“I do think it’ll help,” Leone said of the Buy Local Vermont program. “Absolutely.”

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Tuesday morning’s launch saw such a sudden crush of web traffic, with thousands and thousands all trying to sign up all at once. There were site slowdowns, delays in getting verification codes and disappointment from some customers that the system was matching them with businesses they weren’t all that excited about.

“We definitely had some technical challenges out of the gate,” said Secretary Lindsay Kurrle of the Vermont Agency of Commerce and Community Development, who added that the initial struggles were ironed out in the afternoon.

By the end of the day, the deals were expected to be all spoken for, Kurrle said in an interview. An agency spokesman added that monies designated for Orange and Bennington Counties were the last to be claimed.

“I’m sure there will be Vermonters that wanted to sign up but were unable to, and will be disappointed. But it was a pilot program. We had a limited amount of money and it didn’t go far enough,” Kurrle added.

She said she’s encouraged the Vermont Legislature is still pondering nearly $100 million in economic development recovery measures. Whether lawmakers choose to fund more shopping incentives like Tuesday’s or other moves, it’ll all be needed to protect Vermont businesses left at risk by the coronavirus crisis, she said.

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