IW offering cash back to spur sales at businesses impacted by bridge work

Published 10:44 am Tuesday, May 21, 2024

Smithfield shoppers can earn 5% or up to $10 cash back on their purchases, starting May 20, under a new Isle of Wight County economic development program aimed at keeping Main and Church street businesses afloat during the Virginia Department of Transportation’s nearly two-year rehabilitation of the Cypress Creek Bridge.

VDOT contractors, in January, restricted the circa-1975, two-lane bridge that connects Smithfield’s historic district with the east end of town to a single westbound lane heading into downtown, and detouring eastbound traffic to the Route 10 Bypass. Bumper-to-bumper rush-hour traffic has become a more frequent sight on Main Street in the five months since, with some business owners reporting a decline in sales they attribute to the change in traffic flow.

Isle of Wight County’s Economic Development Authority recently voted to commit $5,000 to launch Open Rewards, a free smartphone app developed by California-based technology company Bludot.

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Customers can earn rewards by downloading the app, available on Google Play for Android and the iPhone App Store, and using it to scan their receipts from purchases made at 125 eligible businesses spanning the 13 to 16 blocks and 100 to 500 blocks of Main Street, the 100 block of North Church Street and the 400 to 1900 blocks of South Church Street. The first 50 users to download and create a free account on Open Rewards will receive a $5 signup bonus to redeem at any participating Smithfield business.

“We wanted to do something to help the businesses impacted by the bridge construction, and this program incentivizes consumers to come into town to shop locally,” said Kristi Sutphin, director of Isle of Wight’s Economic Development Department. “This program is a win-win for both businesses and consumers.”

Business owners can participate by downloading and creating a free business account on the app and selecting their community. Once they’ve entered their business information, including its name, street address, city, state and zip code, Economic Development staff will send an approval notice within 48 hours.

Within seven days of a purchase at a participating business, shoppers can use the app’s “redeem rewards” function on the home screen, which allows users to specify a payout method including Venmo, PayPal or a check in the mail.

Sutphin said her department was introduced to Bludot and its Open Rewards program last year when her predecessor as director, Chris Morello, received a promotional email requesting to demonstrate the company’s products.

“We met with Bludot again earlier this year, coincidentally around the same time that we began hearing about the Main and Church Street businesses struggling due to the Cypress Creek Bridge construction,” Sutphin said. “We presented the program concept to the EDA Board and requested funding to implement the program on a small scale.”

A county news release states the success of the app on Main and Church streets will factor into whether the program gets additional funding when the initial $5,000 runs out, and whether it’s expanded to include county businesses besides those impacted by the bridge project.

Isle of Wight has seen success with similar initiatives in the past. In 2020, The county and the towns of Smithfield and Windsor each contributed portions of the federal funding they’d received through that year’s Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security or CARES Act to fund the #IsleShopSmall gift certificate program, which allowed locals and tourists to purchase up to five $40 gift certificates for $20 apiece. During the first round, 5,000 certificates funded with a combined $105,000 in CARES money, sold out in an hour and a half in November of that year.

The Open Rewards app can be downloaded at https://www.bludot.io/open-rewards-isleofwight