SALT LAKE CITY – A new program launched Monday is giving people another reason to shop and eat out to support local businesses.
"It's a challenging time for everyone. Downtown businesses have been hit especially hard," said Dee Brewer, executive director of Downtown Alliance. "There is no doubt this holiday season will be challenging."
It's that time of year when businesses can typically expect to see a bump in holiday sales. But this year has been far from typical, and the current trend of COVID-19 with its accompanying restrictions continues to take a toll on many restaurants and shops in downtown Salt Lake City.
"It's (definitely) a lot slower. A lot slower," said Cameron Duenas, a waiter at Taqueria 27. "Kind of just feels like it's sapping the life out of downtown."
Brewer said downtown has been "particularly hard hit because the normal audiences are not here."
Those normal customers are usually workers and visitors. But Brewer said only 25% of the downtown workforce is actually working at their downtown office, and hotels are looking at 30% occupancy of what they normally see this time of year.
"It's absolutely essential that we reach out to the local community more than ever to invite them downtown," Brewer said.
That's why on Monday, Downtown Alliance launched "Downtown Dollars" — a program to give customers another reason to come back to struggling shops and restaurants.
How 'Downtown Dollars' work
Utahns can buy "Downtown Dollars" online. That money then lives on a digital gift card on your phone and can be used at dozens of participating shops and diners. And when you buy a certain amount, they give you additional money to spend called "bonus bucks." That money comes from the Shop in Utah grant.
"For example, when you buy $75 in Downtown Dollars, you automatically receive $25 in Bonus Bucks. You can spend that $100 at any of the participating businesses," Brewer said.
Taqueria 27 is one of those businesses that jumped on board. Duenas hopes the program will help fill some of the empty space that has become all too typical this year.
"Everything really in this day and age really helps out," he said. "If you've been avoiding restaurants, definitely come out and see how we're taking care of it. I think you'll be pretty impressed."
"I think the call to action for everybody who loves Salt Lake City is to spend your holiday dollars with a local retailer," Brewer said. "Spend them downtown. Spend them with businesses you want to see here next year."