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Downtown businesses get boost, customers reap rewards

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Elaine Wagner wanted a Monday morning pick-me-up before reporting to work at Cummins Commons Office on Fourth Street. She stopped in Gramz Bakery and gave store owner Deb Steele her order.

In return, Gramz handed Wagner a cup of coffee and offered a token of customer appreciation: a Columbus Downtown Get Around card, introduced Monday by the Columbus Redevelopment Commission as a way to encourage people to spend time downtown.

“That’s the purpose,” said Heather Pope, executive director of the Columbus Redevelopment Commission.

The Columbus Downtown Get Around contest was organized by the CRC, participating downtown businesses and The Republic.

“It’s to encourage people to continue coming downtown even though it is under construction,” Pope said.

The card system is a rewards program for customers of participating businesses in the construction zone. That’s Fourth Street between Jackson and Franklin streets and on Washington Street between Third and Fifth streets.

Each purchase results in a sticker. Get 10 stickers, and you’ll be entered in a drawing Nov. 16 for prizes donated by downtown businesses.

“We are aware that the construction project is having an impact (on businesses),” Columbus Mayor Kristen Brown said. “Anything we can do to help offset the impact to our restaurants and merchants is a good thing.”

Wagner, 26, regularly meets friends downtown for coffee or lunch. She sized up the small cardboard card card Monday and gave a convincing vote of approval.

“I’ll definitely use it,” Wagner said. “I eat downtown almost every day.”

Gramz Bakery, 409 Washington St., had not felt the impact of the Fourth Street transformation project until the intersection of Washington and Fourth streets closed Sept. 20, a few weeks after things got under way. Since then, Steele estimates, she’s seen a 15 percent to 20 percent decline in business.

“For a small business, that’s significant,” Steele said. “I was afraid it would be 50 percent, though.”

Steele said she’ll be donating coupons for the drawing.

Across the street, Tom Dell, co-owner of Dell Brothers men’s clothing store, said he’s in, too.

“This just shows (the city is) sympathetic to the inconveniences that they’re creating and trying to give us something that will help market ourselves out in the general public,” Dell said. “I think that’s wonderful. You normally don’t find that.”

After collecting 10 stickers, participating customers fill out the backs of their cards and leave them at The Commons Management Office or at the Clerk-Treasurer’s Office in City Hall. There’s no limit to how many cards can be submitted in the drawing.

Dell called the approach creative.

“It’s a good thing,” Wagner added. “It will help encourage people to come downtown.”

The construction project — a $1.7 million undertaking to transform Fourth Street into a multi-functional urban street — is expected to end in early November.

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