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Holladay Journal

Holla Dollars wraps up with lackluster numbers

Jan 03, 2022 02:48PM ● By Zak Sonntag

Holla Dollars, a stimulus effort that made cash-equivalent vouchers available to residents for use at participating local businesses as part of the city’s effort to mitigate recession hardships, ended in December with lackluster figures as early data suggests the initiative vastly undershot its potential.

Though final figures remain to be tallied, numbers from Dec. 6 were unimpressive, showing that only 1,000 households amounting to 8% of eligible residents had registered for their Holla Dollars, a puzzlingly small figure for a presumably easy sell—free money—raising questions about the city’s follow-through on a program with high potential to ease financial pressure on both local business and consumers.

Drawing from reactions of residents interviewed by the Holladay Journal, who expressed feeling left in the dark, the biggest factor of the programs underwhelming participation likely stems from a less than robust outreach effort.

“This is the first I’ve heard of it,” explained Stephanie, a checkout clerk working the register at the Village Harmons. “Sounds like something worth investigating, though. I hope it isn’t too late. I don’t have a problem with a little extra cash.”

Holla Dollars is the latest, and possibly the last, coronavirus-related stimulus initiative to come out of the city. The voucher program came on the heels of another city measure called the Small Business Grant Program, which got $214,000 to local business across the city to help with marketing and long-term technological improvements. The success and popularity of the grant program encouraged leaders to follow up with additional initiatives by tapping unused dollars from the city’s own federal stimulus allotment.

Different from the grant program, Holla Dollars sought to provide relief from the bottom up with direct to consumer voucher payments, an approach favored by residents who covet support amid what they see as prolonged uncertainty.

“I think stimulus is smart because I know plenty of people still need help. My federal stimulus allowed me to repair my car. That was a relief. And even when people say it’s getting better, I have no idea what things will look like in the near future because every [economic] prediction I’ve heard has been wrong. Just when we think we’re coming out, we have more trouble,” said Mason Graham, a Holladay resident who works from home as a copy editor.

Graham, like many who spoke with the Holladay Journal, said they had not heard about the Holla Dollars program, leaving the city to ponder what it might have done differently to get the message out.

The city identified ways in which the program may have been more effective. Development Director LaNiece Davenport, who oversaw the program, explained that in hindsight they would not have gone through a third party vendor to send postcards, while also boosting the postcard dissemination, with the thought that the single round of informational mailers did not sufficiently catch the attention of residents. In addition, they would have increased the program’s social media presence and prodded businesses to join in the outreach effort more aggressively. 

“We would engage the businesses earlier in the process to ensure their understanding and active engagement and participation in the program, and use them to help spread the word,” said Davenport, who, despite such holes in the outreach effort, was nonetheless caught off guard by the data.

“I have been handing out Holla Dollars stickers for business to put up in their windows, and we made the voucher website really easy to use. So I’m not totally sure why we haven’t seen bigger numbers,” Davenport said. 

Holla Dollars, nonetheless, has had an impact, according to local businesses who’ve noticed small upticks in consumption.

According to December data, the program’s big winners appear to be local restaurants. Local businesses that collected the highest number of Holla Dollars include: My Pie Pizza, Tony Burgers, 3 Cups, Real Taqueria, Tosh’s Ramen, Tandoor, Fav Bistro, Pizzeria Tasso, Snider Brothers Meats and Great Harvest.

“We’ve had at least a few customers a day using Holla Dollars on sandwiches, bread, cookies. We love it, especially because it keeps everything local. We’ve been here in Holladay for 30 years and that type of local support is why,” said Peggy McVae, co-owner of Great Harvest in Holladay.

A local resident named Sawyer, a clinical-rotation nurse, says there are some things you can’t live without, and those are where additional dollars inevitably go. “When I get my Holla Dollars, I will probably spend it on food. And if I get other stimulus money I will use it for gasoline. Those are the things I can’t get by without,” Sawyer said.

Holla Dollars have been used at retail stores as well, including: Amy Boutique, The Store, Wild Birds Unlimited, Parry's Office Supplies, Kid to Kid, Ace Hardware, Pet Spawt, Knot+Spool, Relics Frame Makers and Gallery and All the Raige Dog Salon. These are amongst the 72 Holladay businesses who’ve opted into the program.

The programs enrollment ended on Dec. 17—however, members of the city council have expressed interest in extending Holla Dollars because the money has already been budgeted, and discussions about the programs possible continuation will take place once the all the data on the program is in.