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The City Journals

Holla Dollars aimed to boost local economy

Jun 07, 2021 12:34PM ● By Zak Sonntag

Susana Minson tends to the work of retail management at Amy’s Boutique (Zak Sonntag/City Journals)

By Zak Sonntag | [email protected]

The City of Holladay is finalizing a plan to put cash-equivalent “Holla Dollars” into the hands of residents for exclusive use at locally operated business in the city, hoping to spur a return to pre-pandemic spending habits and ensure the survival of the small business community that contributes to the city’s unique culture and charm.

Unlike a federal stimulus check, albeit, the Holla Dollars program comes with the condition that the money be spent only on participating Holladay companies.

“We definitely know that the Covid pandemic has hit businesses and residents locally, and we want to encourage people to get out and shop in a way that helps both,” said LaNiece Davenport, the city’s new Community and Economic Development Director.

The city aims to bestow $45 vouchers to every household in the city to help residents weather the ongoing recession, and give businesses a boost over what’s hoped to be the pandemic’s final hump, a gesture that local consumers are cheering.

“I think it’s going to make a big difference. Businesses are still struggling and a lot of people are still being careful with their money,” said Gina Raymondè, an administrator with American Preparatory Academy charter school. “It’s not a lot of money for an individual, but anything makes a difference, and when you’re talking about a whole city, that’s going to add up.”

Indeed, the city’s tentatively planned allocation for the program will add up to over $400,000, which will cycle through the local economy between July and December, when the vouchers are slated to expire. The money will be drawn from the city’s general fund, which as of now is sitting on a sizeable cushion, all things considered. Although, the reason the fund is stocked enough to afford a half-million-dollar stimulus measure is due largely to the CARES Act, the trillion-dollar federal stimulus program from which Holladay extracted sums of grant money for certain expenditures, including big budget obligations like public safety. CARES freed up the city’s normally spoken-for cash to be used on other measures, including, to the glee of many local enterprises, small business grants and now Holla Dollars.

“We’re really excited for Holla Dollars,” said Susana Minson, associate manager at Amy Boutique, a store in the Village plaza which pedals an eclectic array of wares. “We’re especially happy that it’s happening as things are starting to loosen up and people are getting comfortable again. And I think that’s been helped along by the ‘Shop Local’ advertisements the city put out, too.” 

City officials will rely on a third party to manage and administer the program, which will entail the creation of software/website/portal where residents can download and transfer the voucher credits. The contracted party will vet households and businesses to prevent fraud. For some residents, the program seems like more effort than is justified.

“Personally, I get the impression that in this area, and at this point of the recession, business are open and hiring and people are back working, so I don’t think stimulus is the answer—It might be just as effective to encourage people to go out and help them feel safe shopping again,” said Sam Robinson, on his way out of local Caputo’s deli with a sandwich to-go.

Robinson, a finance major in his senior year at the University of Utah, has been mulling over the theoretical merits of stimulus programs in textbooks, and he finds himself on the fence about Holla Dollars.

“Stimulus can help, it really can, in a lot of ways. But if I’m being honest I don’t think this demographic needs stimulus. Holladay has one of the highest household incomes in the state. And I’m starting to wonder if it might all lead to hyper inflation down the road,” Robinson said.

In fact, stimulus programs are inherently inflationary. Yet, for Holladay businesses like Mudita Yoga, who are scraping by with nary a surplus, or any one of the numbers of local entities who’ve shuttered in recent months, you’re liable to hear that stimulus is very much needed and appreciated.

Fortunately for many Holladay businesses, the community ethos is already locally-minded, engrained with the attitude that mom-and-pop shops take priority. 

“If I’m given money to spend, it’s going to local business regardless. I wouldn’t spend it on a chain right now. Locally owned is where it’s at,” said Raymondè, sitting outside 3 Cups coffee with a cinnamon roll.

For now the city is putting the final touches on the program, and some are beginning to anticipate how they’ll spend their allotment. There is anecdotal reason to believe that the restaurant sector itself can lick its lips over Holla Dollars.

During a staff report at a May council meeting, councilmember Paul Fotheringham asked of the program: “I haven’t been to the new Cotton Bottom yet, but will the Holla Dollars get me a burger at the Cotton Bottom?”