How the Keeping It Local Voucher Program Affects CNY Businesses How Onondaga County's Voucher Program Affects Local Businesses

The program is meant to help businesses bounce back after the pandemic.

SYRACUSE, N.Y. (NCC News) – Some businesses are still waiting for customers to come in after the county implemented the second round of the Keeping It Local voucher program.

The program was designed to encourage community residents to shop and eat at local businesses. They do this by offering vouchers online, which residents can download to their computers. People with a voucher can then redeem it at a participating restaurant with the purchase of a gift card that doubles in value from what is spent on it. For example, if someone spends $25, then the gift card will be worth $50, and can be used at the location of purchase.

Over 100 local businesses opted in to be a part of the program this round. It was created to help businesses recover from the pandemic who may have struggled or had to close.

One store, the Koffee King Café, hopes that this will help turn their business around.

The café opened in July, but business has been slow. They have not made much of a profit since opening, and even though they have a few loyal customers, it’s not enough.

“It’s not busy enough that we’re really making money yet,” Koffee King Cafe Owner Michael Bolognone said. “The amount of sales we’re getting to pay for all expenses isn’t there yet. So we’re really trying to just get to the point where we’re actually making money and not losing.”

Bolognone hopes that the voucher program can spread the word about the café and increase their sales. If more money starts coming in, then he can hire employees, update the store and create advertisements. He’s optimistic that it will work, but he knows that even if it does happen, it will only be a temporary fix.

“A handout from the government is just kinda a one-time kick, and maybe it’ll help you get on your feet, but it’s not like it’s gonna sustain forever,” Bolognone said.

A local economist said that the voucher program may not be as helpful as everyone thinks despite its goal, and businesses should be realistic on their expectations.

“I think it’s the appearance, certainly gives a visual of helping business,” SUNY Oswego Economics Professor Elizabeth Schmitt said.

Schmitt added that these types of programs are usually more for show than they are helpful to businesses. The government creates programs like this when the economy is bad to serve as a quick fix to get money back into the community.

Schmitt said that it’s hard to gauge the affect it has without the data to back it up, but since it’s on a smaller scale, it’s likely not as helpful.

“You know it’s an optics and a feel good program that theoretically boosts business, we don’t have a lot of empirical evidence that it actually does,” Schmitt said.

Bolognone is still hopeful that the voucher program will help his business in the coming weeks. So far, no one has come in to the Koffee King to redeem their vouchers and buy a gift card, despite them selling out early.

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