The county this month launched a new program aimed at bolstering small businesses by offering 15% to 20% rewards for customers who shop local.

The initiative is centered around an app called Choose Local San Mateo County, which also serves as a guide to locally owned restaurants, cafes, gyms, shops and other participating local businesses — many of which faced hardship during the pandemic. After linking a credit card within the app, rewards, which can be spent at select businesses, will accrue automatically.

“Small businesses were terribly decimated by the COVID crisis,” San Mateo County Supervisor Dave Pine said during a tour of South San Francisco businesses to promote the app. “It’s our hope this app will go a long way to kick-start the local economy and help recovery.”

The county will fund the rewards with $100,000 from federal pandemic relief funds for at least eight months, and depending on successes may seek additional funding to continue the program. So far, 344 businesses and more than 1,100 individuals have signed up.

The app’s development comes after a county survey found that just 22% of small businesses owners said they were confident their business would survive the pandemic, and 50% requested help with marketing and expressed interest in a local loyalty app program. 

“Small business and the interaction between business people and the community are really at the core of what makes a town unique,” South San Francisco Mayor Mark Addiego said. “This is really a way to showcase the different businesses that are available. Hopefully this app will catch fire and bring in a lot of new customers.”

The program is accepting applications from businesses in Daly City, Half Moon Bay, Millbrae, Redwood City, San Carlos, San Mateo, South San Francisco, San Bruno and Burlingame, and the county plans to also expand to other cities in the county. There is no cap on how many businesses can participate, however, there are some restrictions. Businesses will need to show impacts from the pandemic, and certain business types including marijuana, liquor or vape stores are ineligible.

South San Francisco Councilmember Eddie Flores pointed to how the app could help the city’s Chinese and Latinx businesses, many of which serve essential roles within the city’s diverse communities.

“When [those businesses] evaporate and are no longer part of the neighborhood, that’s when people start saying ‘well maybe I shouldn’t stay here,’” Flores said. “That’s exactly what we don’t want to happen, the migrations or the displacement.”

Futaba Takashima and her husband Jim Wilson own Physique Magnifique, a gym in South San Francisco enrolled in the program. The couple opened the gym on Grand Avenue in the late ’90s.

“Definitely we were one of the businesses that was hit hard, we were closed for 8 1/2 months. This whole year, it’s been about catching up,” Takashima said. “I’m hoping that 2022 will be a time to get out of being in the red.”

Takashima called the app a “breath of fresh air,” and said she hopes it will encourage new customers who may typically be drawn to large chains that can offer prices that are otherwise hard to compete with.

Go to smcgov.org/choose-local-san-mateo-county to learn more. The free app is available in the App Store or on Google Play.

corey@smdailyjournal.com

(650) 344-5200, ext. 105

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