~ Local eGift Cards Now in Currency Citywide
By Dan Marengo, Communications Director for Visit Berkeley
Big box retail and mega e-commerce sites challenge the very survival of local micro businesses. With most of the population staying at home, the pandemic further tilted the playing field towards online retailers open 24/7.
Berkeley makers and merchants have been fighting the good fight, appealing to buyers with creative foundational incentives like quality, craftsmanship, and value. Sometimes it takes a little more. The marketing might of corporate brands far outstretch the resources of a corner shop. To level the playing field, it takes an advocate and an idea.
The City of Berkeley has a long history of advocating for local business, from the former Buy Local Berkeley program to the currently impactful Discovered in Berkeley campaign. Recognizing the critical need to bolster the local economy in late 2021, the City coordinated the forces of the Berkeley Chamber, Office of Economic Development, and Visit Berkeley to create a new local “counter-currency:” Berkeley Bucks. After all, this is Berkeley!
Berkeley’s first-ever citywide eGift card, Berkeley Bucks are valid at more than 100 local merchants and restaurants – many offering exclusive discounts to cardholders. And with the support of promotions made possible by Bayer – Berkeley’s largest private employer – and Visit Berkeley, buyers typically get a bonus gift card on top of their purchase to extend their buying power. Currently, the purchase of $150 in Berkeley Bucks earns a free $50 Berkeley Bucks e-gift card. Plus, the time-sensitive bonus cards get locals into the shops and restaurants who are participating in the program before they expire – so it’s a quick boost to the local economy. To date, over $40,000 Berkeley Bucks have been purchased with just over $16,000 redeemed.
Buying local benefits more than the proprietor. A portion of sales tax revenue from local purchases stays in the city to help pay for K-12 education, higher education, public health, public safety, transportation, parks, and other essential services. In 2021, Berkeley tallied $324.3 million in retail and food service taxable transactions, collecting just over $33 million in sales tax.
When consumers buy from online corporate retailers, their money goes elsewhere, usually out-of-state and often overseas. But when you purchase locally, that employer pays local workers who spend their money locally, supporting the Berkeley and Bay Area economy in tangible ways.
Berkeley Bucks are offered via Yiftee, a company serving more than 400 communities and 13,000 local businesses with simple, secure, point of sale independent e-gift cards that keep local dollars local – more than $27M in pandemic years 2020 and 2021. The Menlo Park-headquartered company works with Chambers of Commerce, Downtowns, Main Streets, Business Improvement Districts, city governments, and other local organizations to create “Community Cards,” branded for the community and redeemable at tens to hundreds of local businesses.
"Shopping local has always been popular, but now it's essential, and Community Cards are a simple way for consumers, companies and local governments to keep their local dollars local," said Donna Novitsky, Yiftee CEO.
“The Berkeley Bucks program also encourages residents to visit and discover the local businesses that make the community special," says Raquel Borges from Yiftee.
Yiftee and the Berkley Bucks card are all about supporting local businesses and helping them recover from hardships caused by the pandemic. Berkeley Bucks are valid at any Berkeley business that accepts MasterCard and opts in to the program and can be redeemed by the cardholder in person, over the phone, or via an online store. No apps, downloads or special technology are required.
“I love the idea of Berkeley Bucks! It allows maximum flexibility for the recipient, yet guarantees that the money stays in Berkeley,” said Fern Solomon, proprietor of Berkeley Bucks participant Fern’s Garden on Solano Avenue. “It is a win-win for all!”
Local professional and corporate organizations are also rallying behind the Berkeley Bucks campaign: "We love Berkeley and we love Berkeley Bucks! They are a great way to support our local merchants. They are also a perfect way for us to welcome our clients who are new Berkeley residents to the neighborhood," added Anna Bellomo, founder and realtor at District Homes.
There is no merchant cost to participate in Berkeley Bucks and setting it up in a Point of Sale system takes just a few minutes. Berkeley businesses interested in the program can contact Visit Berkeley’s Jeff Church, firstname.lastname@example.org, for more information.
“Berkeley Bucks is a citywide response to the economic challenges faced by Berkeley small businesses,” says Church. “Times have been so tough of late for our merchant and restaurant community and we are committed to supporting them with Berkeley Bucks, now and in the months and years ahead.”
Visit Berkeley, the Berkeley Chamber of Commerce, Neighborhood Districts, and the Office of Economic Development are working together to support Berkeley-based businesses and “keep cash in the community” through Berkeley Bucks. Bayer, Berkeley’s largest private-sector employer, is the founding sponsor of the Berkeley Bucks initiative, and a Berkeley-Built sponsor as well.
List of Berkeley Bucks participants can be found here.