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Taxpayer-supported Shop & Dine campaign moved to holiday season

Diners enjoy dinner and beverages at Mezzaluna on Main Street. A Shop & Dine campaign to boost spending at local restaurants and shops has been delayed to the holiday season, the Chamber of Commerce says. Diners enjoy dinner and beverages at Mezzaluna on Main Street. A Shop & Dine campaign to boost spending at local restaurants and shops has been delayed to the holiday season, the Chamber of Commerce says.

In the late spring and early summer, the Henderson County Chamber of Commerce pitched a $25,000 promotion for restaurants and shops, telling elected leaders that the marketing and advertising push would boost hard-hit businesses through the summer season.

The pitch worked.
The Henderson County Board of Commissioners and four towns bought in, committing a total of $13,500 for Shop & Dine Henderson County.
The campaign, chamber President Bob Williford told the elected bodies, had the support of the Fletcher Area Business Association, Flat Rock Merchants Association, Downtown Hendersonville Inc., Laurel Park Shopping Village and the Hendersonville Merchants & Business Association. The chamber planned to roll out the program with a “three-month focus,” from June through late September, followed by “evaluation and consideration of extending into the holiday season.” Yet, as the calendar turned to October, the bulk of the campaign had yet to materialize. Aside from a social media campaign, the promotion has not been rolled out in the kind of marketing and advertising blitz Williford promised in May and June.
One reason, he said, is that business reopening rules the state has imposed have remained stricter than the chamber predicted.
“The initial plan was, as the economy was opened up, to hit it really hard and then kind of maintain and then hit it again hard during the Christmas shopping season,” he said. “We didn’t hit it really hard like we had hoped (in the summer), so we’re kind of saving some powder to hit it—spend a little bit more—during the holiday season and try to have a bigger impact on that end.”
The timeline for the program is still fluid, Williford said. The current plan is to launch the main marketing campaign just before Thanksgiving. However, “If we see some positive movement, like the governor going to 25 people inside, 50 outside—we see more signs like that—we may kick off a bit earlier,” he added.
Henderson County and the city of Hendersonville both contributed $5,000 to the Shop & Dine program, while Fletcher gave $1,500 and Flat Rock and Laurel Park $1,000 each. Officials from contributing towns and local restaurant owners say they have not seen an impact from the campaign yet.
“We really haven’t had a lot of updates from them on what’s happening with it, at least directly to the town,” Fletcher Town Manager Mark Biberdorf said. The Chamber of Commerce gave a timeline for the program up-front, “but it has been so long since I talked to them about it, I don’t know about all that has transpired.”

‘It went up in smoke with Covid 19’

County Board of Commissioners Chairman Grady Hawkins said he recognized that restrictions imposed by Gov. Roy Cooper affected the rollout.
“Well, it was certainly a discouragement it being delayed, but it is what it is,” he said. “But the thought of the program itself is a good thought, in that it is always good to encourage the small business that are downtown for not only the business itself but for employment.”
“When we signed onto the program we were very optimistic about having a real vigorous program for Shop & Dine but then it kind of all went up in smoke with the Covid-19 and the restrictions Governor Cooper put on us.”
The Hendersonville City Council supported the program because “we want our community to be healthy,” said council member Jennifer Hensley, who serves on the Downtown Advisory Committee. “This year has been pretty unprecedented in everything and it has really kicked the pants of business owners and so we wanted to do anything we could to contribute to their success.” Regarding the delay of the Shop & Dine program she said, “We don’t want to put undue stress on the businesses … I think the chamber has also evaluated along the same lines, of what is going to put more strain on the businesses.”
Asked if she thought the money would be as effective during the holidays as it might have been earlier, Hensley said, “I’ll tell you the only thing I can do is pray that it will be. I have faith in our community and the strength of our community as far as financially, and so I hope that it’s going to be a very positive impact.”
Mayor Carey O’Cain of Laurel Park also said he understood the reasons for delaying the campaign.
“Well, you know, I think it’s our duty to support local business during this,” he said. “It is what it is as far as having to delay it, we don’t want to open before, we don’t want the restaurants in particular to open before it is practical and we need to follow the guidelines of Gov. Cooper. … It’s tough for them, it’s very tough, and we want to be as supportive as we possibly can be.” Of the Chamber of Commerce’s decision to delay, O’Cain said, “I’m not going to second guess that, you know, they just need to use the funding when it is most appropriate. We certainly are not going to push opening before it is time.”

Delay until 2021?

Lew Holloway, the city’s director of Downtown Economic Development Director for the City of Hendersonville, said the concept of the Shop & Dine program is one that really works along a number of different timeframes. The holidays are “typically a pretty heavy retail time,” he said. “As time has gone on over the past couple of years—particularly as it relates to Covid—certainly some of those dollars have shifted online (from brick-and-mortar shops). So, it’s a timely reminder to folks in the community that supporting local businesses goes a long way in helping them thrive over the holiday season.”
All the contributing towns agreed that the Shop & Dine program served the important interest of helping local businesses through the pandemic. However, Patty Adamic, owner of Mike’s on Main, doubted the timing of the program.
“Would any advertising campaign work? Not really, I don’t think at this point, from what we are seeing on Main Street here,” she said. “The public is either comfortable being out or they’re not. We let people know that we are open safely and we’re following protocol and everything … but, I think people assume that.” She said she doesn’t think foot traffic will increase until confidence in public health improves.”
Adamic said the Shop & Dine promotion might be even more useful in the slowest time — after New Year’s Day.
“I think definitely save the campaign for off-season,” she said. “If they’re going to do it, do it January, February and March. Save it, don’t do it through the winter. … My vote would be, if you’re going to have them do it, yes, but please wait until the winter.”
Mike Santacrose is the owner and chef at Arabella Breakfast & Brunch, which opened weeks before the pandemic completely shut down dine-in business.
“I think anything that draws attention to go to local businesses, and then Main Street, but local businesses in general is just this huge win for everybody,” he said.
Holiday business does tend to fall off in January and February, “but you know, I’m not really sure this year. I don’t think anybody really knows.”
Santacrose said that in a normal year a boost in the slow winter season would be useful, “but I’m not really sure we’re in going to be in the normal year next year anyway.”

Social media campaign draws interest

The Shop & Dine program “is still a strategic decision,” Holloway said. “You know that people are going to be spending more in November and December, it’s just going to happen. You know, they’re getting ready for the holidays. We want to make sure that we’re telling those folks when they’re getting ready to spend those dollars, ‘Hey, why don’t you think about doing some of that downtown?’”
The chamber’s broader marketing campaign will feature ads promoting the economic benefits of supporting local business and assuring people that restaurants and shops are taking precautions to ensure shopping and dining is safe.
One piece of the Shop & Dine program is already under way. A social media campaign includes a Facebook group and bi-monthly contests for people who shop or dine at a Henderson County business and post messages about it. A Facebook campaign drew 167,513 impressions in July and 131,000 in August, Williford said. Users clicked through to see ads 2,273 times in July and 1,336 times in August. The campaign more recently is “seeing some declining numbers, but the suggestion is to change up the ads, which we are working on,” he said.