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How Victoria plans to inject more dollars into downtown businesses

About 100 businesses have already registered with new program and more are expected to join
Jeff Bray, executive director of the Downtown Victoria Business Association, holds a novelty-sized Victoria Gift Card on Yates Street. The card is meant to encourage spending at downtown businesses. It is available online from $5. | Darren Stone, Times Colonist

To mark the launch of a ­city-wide gift card program, the Downtown Victoria Business Association will be handing out loaded cards for customers in the hopes of encouraging more spending in downtown Victoria.

Chief executive Jeff Bray said that his association will be giving away “thousands of dollars” in gift card value to the public through contests and giveaways as part of the Downtown Victoria Gift Card program.

“We’re really excited to be injecting a significant amount of dollars into downtown,” he said.

About 100 businesses have already registered with the program and more are expected to join the multi-year effort, Bray said. “Most of our members are small- and medium-size independent businesses, so it’s one of the best ways to support local.”

Businesses can also purchase the cards to run their own promotions, he said, adding that the cards are also a good holiday bonus for employees.

The Canada Revenue Agency allows up to $500 in non-cash gifts — including gift cards — to be handed out to an employee tax-free every year.

Victoria joins Sidney as the second muncipality in the capital region to offer place-based gift cards.

Morgan Shaw, executive director of the Sidney Business Improvement Area Society, said Sidney’s gift card program has been “a growing success.”

The gift cards have enabled at total of $25,000 in sales for the 50 businesses in Sidney that have already signed up for the program after launching in May, she said.

The technology for both ­Visa-powered gift card programs comes from Miconex, a U.K.-based fintech company, that runs similar gift-card initiatives across North America.

Promotional materials from Miconex tout their multi-business gift card program as a great way to get customers through the door and for clients to better understand where sales are being made in downtown businesses.

Customers often spend 65 per cent more than the gift card value upon redemption, with over 95 per cent of that number spending up to an extra $50, according to Micronex.

Victoria’s gift-card program comes endorsed by Mayor Marianne Alto and is just one of many ways that the city and business leaders are reinvesting in the downtown core so that businesses can weather economic challenges that have been exacerbated by labour shortages and inflation.

On Monday, Bray was in Ottawa lobbying the federal government for re-payment extensions to Canada Emergency Business Account loans, an interest-free emergency loan introduced by Canada in 2020 because of the pandemic.

As of June 30, about 70 per cent of recipients in Canada have yet to make a single payment on their loans.

There has been a three-fold increase in empty storefronts in Victoria’s downtown since 2019. Currently, Victoria’s streetfront vacancy hovers around 12 per cent, according to International Downtown Association Canada, a group that represents organizations across the country that manage business districts.

Last week, 30-plus B.C. retailers, trade organizations and community associations banded together to call for a unified effort to tackle increasing levels of theft, violence and vandalism.

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