Daily Planet 7/15/11

Merchants still exploring buy local program

Ann Martin (right) makes a purchase at Between the Covers from co-owner Bobbi T. Smith. Local merchants are working on finding or creating a buy local program that would incentivize shopping locally and aggregate frequent-buyer programs with participating merchants. [Photo by Melissa Plantz]

‘Every two steps forward, we take one step back’

By Kathrine Warren
Staff Reporter
Published: Friday, July 15, 2011 Daily Planet

Imagine a card that aggregates all your punch cards with local retailers and a website that alerts you when you have a free coffee waiting for you after the ninth cup.

A group of Telluride business people are trying to start just that with a buy local card that could act as a debit card with participating stores, but they are still trying to find the right way to do it.

The Cosmopolitan Restaurant’s Chad Scothorn first hatched the idea about a year and a half ago after seeing a buy local coupon book pick up steam in Durango, where he owns another restaurant. He thought Telluride needed more than just coupons and decided a locals card that works like a debit card would be both innovative and possible.

Scothorn began working with a Front Range company, Synderesis Technologies, to try and develop a pilot program for such a card. The Telluride Merchants Association formed a committee with Scothorn and others to work on the program.

Originally they thought Telluride would see a test run in the spring or early summer, but so far it has not come to fruition.

Todd Brown, a member of the merchants committee who works as a business coach with ASAP Accounting & Payroll Services, Inc., said there have been a few road bumps in the process.

“Every two steps forward, we take one step back,” Brown said on Wednesday. “[The card process] is grinding along.”

Synderesis is still developing a card that would link to a consumer’s checking account and could run like a debit card, but the committee wants funds to be transferred in real time, not over a 48-hour period like normal debit cards.

“Somebody could go into a store and make a whole bunch of purchases when they don’t have the funds,” Brown said.

Synderesis wants Telluride to sign on as the pilot town, but Brown said they won’t until the software can work in real time.

“If they can’t, then that particular approach is dead in the water,” Brown said. “Call us skeptical, but until we can see it work, we’re not going to sign up for it.”

Regardless if Synderesis can produce a real time system or not, Brown said the merchants still want to find a buy local rewards program.

“It depends on what the merchants and the community wants to do,” he said. “We’ve kicked around a bunch of different things, every merchant has their own idea.”

Daiva Chesonis, co-owner of Between the Covers, is on the committee with Brown and Scothorn and said as a merchant, she’d like to see a program that reduces transaction fees for stores if customers use a local card.

“Anything to lessen that percentage taken out of a local sale,” Chesonis said.

She said the committee is also looking at programs that other towns are already using.

At this point Brown said there is no timeline but the committee is still chugging along with the hope that some time soon a buy local program can begin here in the box canyon.

“We thought we’d be further than we are now,” he said. “We thought we’d be able to pilot it with a handful of businesses over the spring, but we’re still not there.”