Downtown Elkhart merchants tout loyalty card, hope participation picks up

Gateway Mile promotion has 30 participating stores and 715 cards have been distributed in first two months.

Posted on Aug. 5, 2014 at 4:20 p.m.

ELKHART — An estimated 715 cards have been distributed and the savings are there for the taking.

Now, all the downtown stores need is some more participation.

The new Gateway Mile Loyalty Card, organized by SoMa, the revitalization group, has been available for free for several weeks and close to 30 merchants near South Main Street are participating.

So far, though, few people are taking advantages of the savings, according to several downtown merchants.

Most said they think it’s a good idea that could catch on with time.

Frank Hill, co-owner of Cubby Bear Pizza, said the restaurant has seen close to about half a dozen people use the cards while other merchants said they’ve only seen a few people use the card.

Cubby Bear Pizza provides a free soft drink for every $5 spent at the restaurant for cardholders.

Told of the light level of interaction so far, Hill said he remains hopeful.

“It needs more exposure and time to develop,” Hill said.

Tantalizing offers
Some of the more interesting offers made available through The Gateway Mile Loyalty Card:
■ $5 off a new membership at Wellfield Botanic Gardens
■ 50 percent discount on admission at the Midwest Museum of American Art.
■ Free half hour private lesson, your choice of dance at That’s Dancing Studio
■ 50 percent discount on starter package of four weeks of lessons at Elkhart School of Music
To see a full, list go to thegatewaymile.com.

The card program was unveiled about two months ago right before Elkhart Jazz Festival and coincides with a large marketing effort to brand the downtown business district and tourist spots as The Gateway Mile.


Along with advertising, the marketing blitz included an improved website that pulls together all of the downtown attractions and other aspects that fall into the “live, work, play” mantra.

David Smith, general manager of The Lerner Theatre who helped with creation of the loyalty card, said the number of people who have sought a card is a good indicator.

“I think it’s a great sign. It’s a good start.”

Smith cautions the card program is still in its infancy.

A new promotional effort including emails to card holders and other advertising highlighting the program will begin soon, Smith said.

“There’s longer and stronger legs that need to get up underneath it, but like all things, it’s a process,” Smith said.

Merchants are asked to change the offer every three months and can change an existing promotion if it’s not working, Smith said.

In addition to building the “Gateway Mile” brand, use of the card program sends a signal to investors that there’s added value in being in the downtown.

“The goal is to drive people to the heart of the downtown,” he said.

Various store owners are optimistic that more people will start using the cards they have.

Stephenson’s, the longstanding women’s clothing store, is offering a 10 percent discount, but the store hasn’t seen any bites yet.

Store owner Chris Reynolds, though, remains hopeful.

“I think it’s a neat thing. Every little bit helps,” said Chris Reynolds, owner of the store.

Floral Designs by Michael signed up in early July and has had one customer take advantage of the current 25 percent discount, according to owner Michael Phelps.

Phelps said he thinks the promotion could help with customer traffic likes the idea because there is no upfront costs.

June Criss, owner of Ditto Quality Resale, has a promotional sign in the window along Lexington Avenue and is offering 20 percent off for purchases of $10 or more, So far, though, nobody has used it.

The rollout of the card comes at the same time merchants are facing construction projects in the downtown and to the south near Prairie Street.

“I’m trying to do whatever I can with the street closing. We’re trying to get as much business down here as we can,” Criss said.

Michael Cooper Jr., who recently took over the ownership of Skinner the Printer, said he was unaware of the program, but said he’d look into the opportunity.

David Ullery, owner of Pumpernickel’s pretzel shop, said he still intends to participate in the program.

“It’s worth a shot,” Ullery said. “We’ve been down here a long time and we want to support things that are trying to support downtown businesses.”



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