Tuesday, August 20, 2013

The local advantage, part 2

This morning's e-mail brought the latest edition of our local newsletter, the Highland Park eNews, which keeps Highland Park residents up-to-date on everything from recycling pickup schedules (very useful) to new businesses in town (sometimes useful) to which local kids have just achieved distinction in the state art fair (neither useful nor interesting in the least, unless you're related to them). But this week's edition, for a change, happened to lead off with a story that was both highly useful and highly interesting: "SHOP HIGHLAND PARK; Tax Credit Rewards Program Starts Soon."

The gist of the story is that an assortment of local businesses will soon be sharing a shopper-loyalty card, much like the ones I already have for every supermarket and drugstore in our area. Only this one has a twist; when we use it at local businesses, instead of giving us a discount on certain items that they sell, it will give us a percentage of what we spend as a credit on our property taxes. How cute is that? The residents benefit from the discount, the stores benefit because residents will be encouraged to patronize them instead of seeking lower prices elsewhere, and the town benefits because local businesses will be more likely to stay in business and keep contributing to the tax pool. For the community as a whole, it's a win-win-win.

I checked out the website of the company that runs this little scheme, and apparently they've been running programs like it in a variety of towns since 2010. The money for the rebates comes from the businesses themselves, not from the town, so it's up to them to decide how much is a reasonable amount to offer so that the cost of the rebate won't wipe out any benefits from the extra business they attract. They also have to pay a $10 fee each month to take part in the program, so it's probably not worth it for them to do it unless they think they can actually attract a significant volume of business from it. This might explain why only about a dozen of our local businesses have, so far, signed up for the program—most of them ones that we seldom, if ever, use.

I did, however, find two local businesses on the list that are of interest to us. Through the Moongate/Over the Moon Toys, a toy store and gift shop run as a single business by two sisters, is planning to offer a rebate of 7.5 percent. Now, given that we don't actually shop there all that often and almost never spend much when we do, this isn't that big a bargain. After all, a 7.5 percent rebate on a $10 board game only works out to a 75-cent credit on our property taxes, which is hardly enough to bother about. Still, given that we've been trying to encourage ourselves to do more of our shopping at local businesses anyway—even toying with the idea of creating a special budget item just for this purpose—having the card would be a good way to psych ourselves into going there more often, even if the actual savings was minimal.

The other local business on the list, however, is an entirely different kettle of fish. Schwartz and Nagle, our trusted local mechanic, is offering one of the largest rebates on the list: 15 percent of the total bill. Now, granted, taking the car in for service is not exactly a frequent expense (thank goodness), but when we do go there, we generally spend at least 50 bucks, and often much more. So at 15 percent of a $200 repair bill, we're talking 30 bucks off our taxes, which is—well, still just a drop in the bucket when you consider what the tax rates are like around here, but nothing to turn up our noses at. Especially since it's an expense we'd have anyway, and the local business is definitely the one we'd be using anyway. (This isn't such great news for Schwartz and Nagle, actually, since they could have our business whether they paid the rebate or not—but if all goes according to plan, offering it should encourage more people to go there and help the business thrive, which would definitely be a good thing for us as well as for them. A mechanic you trust—rather like a dentist you trust—is something you want to hold onto at all costs.)

So we'll definitely be signing up for one of these new local-shopping cards as soon as they become available. And with luck, the program will turn out to be a big enough success that other local businesses will be persuaded to take part in it—such as, say, the Thai restaurant, the sushi place, and the comic shop.

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