COLUMN — Here are some ways the county can help local businesses

Published 6:13 pm Thursday, October 29, 2020

With at least $1.2 million left to allocate in CARES Act money, there are a couple things Prince Edward County can do right away to help local businesses have a better holiday season.

The first idea comes from our neighbors just down the road in Mecklenburg County. The county has developed an innovative gift card program that serves as a win-win for consumers and businesses in the community. So far, the program has put $244,000 directly into small businesses in that community. They recently launched a third round of the program that they project will result in almost half a million dollars being put into the business community.

Here’s how it works. The program allows customers to buy gift cards from local businesses and double their money. So if I wanted to get The Herald’s Senior Restaurant Correspondent Alexa Massey a $20 gift card from one19 because I owe her big time for sending her to cover a tractor pull, this program would double that amount, and I would receive a $40 gift card for my $20 investment.

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Where else can you double your money these days? I have tried the blackjack table. That has not worked out to be a solid investment strategy. If I wanted to get our Senior Burger Editor Titus Mohler a gift certificate for one of those Clarence Page burgers from the Press Club, I could invest $20 and get him $40 worth of burgers. Or, I could give him $20 and keep $20 for myself to use for their fabulous chicken tenders.

Where does the extra $20 come from? It comes from the CARES Act money the county has been given by the federal government to help offset the effects of the pandemic. In Mecklenburg, businesses register for the program on a website, and then consumers go on the website, select the participating store or restaurant they like and purchase gift cards in $20 increments.

This program allows the consumers and the businesses to benefit from the CARES funds. It would be a great program to boost holiday sales in the Farmville area. Mecklenburg County Tourism Coordinator Tina Morgan said the program has served as a major catalyst in driving people to shop local.

The second idea comes all the way from Cambridge, Massachusetts. It gets cold in Massachusetts, and that’s a problem for restaurants trying to keep their outdoor dining areas open longer than usual this season. The town is using CARES money to try to help them out. Cambridge is using its CARES money to reimburse restaurants up to $250 for portable patio heaters to keep outdoor dining areas warm and open as long as possible this winter. The town’s offer is good for up to five of the large patio heaters. Those heaters are priced around $263 to $300, so the restaurant is left not paying much for a piece of equipment that can bring them more customers.

It will be more important than ever this holiday season for us as consumers to support local businesses. Many of them have been through the worst year imaginable. Hopefully the county leaders who control the CARES Act purse strings will find unique ways, such as these, to help out as well.

ROGER WATSON is editor of The Farmville Herald. His email address is