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ʽShop Websterʼ campaign gets thumbs up from merchants

By Rod Lee

On the day after Christmas in the Big Belly Café on Gore Road, Julie Hamm smiled in asserting her enthusiasm for a “Shop Webster” campaign being launched by the municipality’s “economic development team” as a way to encourage residents to support local merchants.

The premise of the promotion is simple enough. People frequenting stores and restaurants in town are being asked to save their proof of purchases and bring them to the town administrator’s office by January 10 to be eligible for gift certificates with the winners to be determined by a raffle for (1) first-place prize, (2) second-place prizes and (3) third-place prizes. Prizes in each case are gift certificates worth from $100 to $25.

All small businesses in Webster are automatically enrolled in the campaign except for national chains (which excludes such operations, of which Webster has many, as McDonald’s and Burger King, KFC/Taco Bell, CVS, Walgreen’s and Panera Bread).

Participating patrons are allowed to collect more than one receipt from the same store or restaurant.

The team in charge of the campaign includes Town Administrator Doug Willardson, Assessor Marc Becker, Town Planner Ann V. Morgan and Carol Cyr, who is director of community development for the town of Webster.

“Absolutely, it’s almost like a small-business Saturday kind of deal,” said Ms. Hamm—daughter of Wendy Young who owns the Big Belly Café (formerly My Brother’s Place)—in saluting the initiative. “It’s in town, and 97% of our customers are from town.”

How much impact the first-ever “Shop Webster” effort has remains to be seen. Some retailers who The Yankee Xpress talked to were dubious. A waitress at the Alley Cat Diner, 117 E. Main St. (the establishment lives up its name as a narrow aisle and with stools fronting a long counter), speaking for Owner Brian Coleman who was unavailable for comment, said “we don’t give receipts. He’s not interested.”

Varo Azizian of Varo’s Fine Jewelry, 129 E. Main St. #7, which is known for its exclusive and custom pieces and honest pricing, shook his head and said, “I’ve been here 24 years and people still go to malls and shop online. This won’t help.”

But Terek Mroczkowski of Nipmuc Discount Liquors, 35 Thompson Road, welcomed the boost his store might get, saying “we are entering our dead season.”

Melissa Sprague of Just Wing It, 548 S. Main St., agreed. “That’s awesome!” Ms. Sprague said. She noted that Steve Barrett owns “this one and four other (Just Wing It) stores.”

“That’s a cool idea,” Richard J. DiGiorno of Aubuchon Hardware, 118 E. Main St., Suite 7, said, after being apprised of the campaign. “This is great, I like it.” As a regional chain, Aubuchon is included in the promotion.

Rich DiGiorno, right, with son Tyler and employee Dale McDonald, is manager of the Aubuchon Hardware store, 118 E. Main, Suite 7, Webster—home of Benjamin Moore paint, cut glass, Carhartt Clothing and much more for the home and yard.

Tom Discordi of GNC, 2 Worcester Rd., lamented that his store will not be accorded the same privilege, but said the concept is a good one. The Discordi family’s GNC (“Live Well”) store is off to a strong start, Mr. Discordi said. “I’m up 18% in sales in nine months,” he said.

As of December 26, retailers were just learning about the “Shop Webster” promotion. Debra Horan of Booklovers’ Gourmet, 55 E. Main St., said she found out when she saw it on the marquee outside Town Hall upon going there for business on the 27th  of December, and Mr. Willardson filled her in on the details. She said she would have liked to know sooner.

“I think it’s a good idea,” Ms. Horan said. “It gives people more incentive to shop.”

Contact Rod Lee at [email protected] or 774-232-2999.