Chamber Bucks fuel local holiday shopping

Gift certificates sold by business organizations prove to be a popular gift that boosts sales for area stores

THE BELGIUM AREA CHAMBER of Commerce recently started a Chamber gift certificate program in which businesses and individuals can purchase what is essentially a gift card to any Chamber member’s business. Showing off the cards were Executive Director Tara Williams (left) and Lilla Zeien of Port Washington State Bank, where the certificates are sold. Photo by Sam Arendt


Ozaukee Press staff

If you’re looking for a holiday gift but don’t have any idea what to give someone, area Chambers of Commerce and Port Main Street Inc. have a solution.

Known as Chamber Cash, Gift Checks or Business Bucks, they’re as good as cash at local businesses.

The Belgium Area Chamber of Commerce recently started the program after Mel’s Charities donated $2,000 raised during a music festival at Buechler Farms.

Mel’s wanted the money to go to people in need in the community, Chamber Executive Director Tara Williams said.

“How do you divvy up $2,000?” she asked. “They wanted to keep the money in the community.”

The solution, Williams said, was the Chamber gift certificate program, which kicked off last month. Thanks to Mel’s Charities, $2,000 of gift certificates were given to people in need.

But beyond a way to distribute the donation, the program supports area businesses by giving people a reason to shop locally.

“It’s not like you’re buying a gift certificate to one place and hoping the person shops there,” she said. “People can spend them at any Chamber member, be it a restaurant or a bar, a salon or a shop.

“You can use it the same as cash. It’s pretty slick.”

The Chamber has 76 members — not all are in Belgium — so the list of places where the certificates can be used is significant, Williams said.

Although the program started with a gesture by Mel’s Charities and the Chamber has distributed funds to those in need with Mel’s donation, the Chamber Bucks program is open to everyone.

Anybody can buy them at Port Washington State Bank’s Belgium branch, Williams said.

“We’ve already had quite a few sales,” she said.

The Chamber Bucks program isn’t an original idea, but one that has been around for decades in other communities.

The Grafton Area Chamber of Commerce has had a Chamber Gift Check program for more than 15 years, and Executive Director Pam King said it’s been a successful program.

The Chamber offie issues between $30,000 and $35,000 in the gift checks annually, she said.

When former Chamber Director Nancy Hundt championed the program, King said,  it was seen as an extra value for the Chamber’s 225-plus members.

“It’s about economic impact and spending money locally,” King said. “At the end of the day, it just helps our businesses.

“I know people who have used them to buy pool passes at the Parks and Recreation office. We know people have redeemed them at doctors’ offices and dentists’ offices. And, of course, people use them at our shops and stores.”

People need to spend a minimum of $10 to purchase the checks during the holidays. King said she discourages people from purchasing the gift checks for a large amount, such as $100. If that’s the amount they want to give someone, she said, it’s often better to break it out into smaller denominations, perhaps buying five checks for $20 each.

“You’re more likely to really use it then,” she said. “So many of us don’t go out and spend $100 at once.”

Just as with a regular check, King said, if they aren’t redeemed for the full amount, change can be given in cash.

King said the gift checks are purchased by youth sports teams that present them to coaches, nonprofit organizations or clubs that use them as raffle prizes, and businesses that present them to employees as holiday gifts or bonuses.

“Some places use it as a longevity gift,” she said, estimating six to eight companies purchase the checks throughout the year and another six to 10 companies buy them at the holidays.

“That’s one big piece of where we sell then,” she said.

The rest are sold to individuals, she said, including people who live out of state and want to buy a gift from someone who lives in the area and parents who buy them for their childrens’ teachers.

“It’s an easy gift to give and it’s more personal than cash,” King said.

It’s also good for businesses, she said.

“For us, that’s a huge piece of this program,” King said.

In Port Washington, the Business Improvement District offered a similar program for years. Port Main Street Inc. took over the program this year.

“We sell quite a few throughout the year,” Main Street Executive Director Kristina Tadeo said, noting they may be purchased at Port Washington State Bank’s downtown office. 

She noted that businesses often give them to customers coming into town for meetings and employees, while individuals  often use them for gifts.

“I think there’s definitely an uptick around the holidays,” she said. “They’re great stocking stuffers. It’s really nice to have something that can be used  anywhere.”

The program, Tadeo said, is important and something that’s expected in many communities.

“If you don’t have it, people are going to be asking about it,” she said. “I do think it’s an important service. It’s a way to get people shopping and spending money in your community.”



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Ozaukee Press

Wisconsin’s largest paid circulation community weekly newspaper. Serving Port Washington, Saukville, Grafton, Fredonia, Belgium, as well as Ozaukee County government. Locally owned and printed in Port Washington, Wisconsin.

125 E. Main St.
Port Washington, WI 53074
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