If you want subs catered at a party, need an oil change, or have been meaning to take up piano, you might be able to knock off all three, thanks to an incentive-based, shop-local program the village just rolled out.
Last month, the village unveiled BEST (buy, eat, shop, think, local), a program that lets local businesses list sales and promotions as an incentive for shoppers.
The Web-based program is free to both merchants and consumers. The village hopes it will boost local spending and, likewise, sales tax revenue, according to Mayor Anthony Calderone.
The mayor said the program is being aimed at both Forest Parkers and non-residents in an effort to prompt folks to “look at Forest Park first.”
“We want to help keep business thriving,” said Calderone.
The program enables merchants to create an account on the website and then list incentives to entice shoppers in.
The village is enclosing information about the program in the water bills it sends to property owners. Inside, residents will find a plastic card and key chain, which need to be presented in order to take advantage of sales and promotions
Officials are still kicking around ideas as to how the cards will be distributed to non-property owners, Calderone said, but the cards and key chains will be available to pick up at village hall.
Thus far, 17 businesses are participating in the program, offering a variety of incentives.
American Music World, 7655 Roosevelt Rd., for instance, will give $10 music lessons to participating consumers. Starship sandwich shop, 7618 Madison St., is offering 10 percent off any catering order. And Forest Park Auto Repair, 1351 Circle Ave., is charging $17.95 to change the oil of certain cars that belong to BEST card carriers.
The merchants interviewed last week all spoke highly of the program.
Henry Lakowski, part-owner of Starship Subs, a longtime Forest Park eatery, said business has leveled off for about a year, and the BEST program offers a free platform to advertise sales.
“The exposure you get is tremendous,” Lakowski said. “To be on the village’s website, to me, that’s free advertising.”
He hopes that by participating in BEST and using social media like Twitter and Facebook, as well as the coupon website Groupon, he and his longtime partner, Paul McKenna, will see benefits for their bottom line.
McKenna, too, views the program in a positive light and commended the mayor and the village for launching it.
“When we opened up, this was nothing but a shot-and-beer town,” said McKenna, of Madison Street’s reputation as little more than a row of taverns. “Tony’s a big part of the reason it went in the right direction. … This is just another indication of how proactive with the businesses he is.”
Rick Famjon, American Music co-owner, also complimented the village for creating the program.
“It’s a good idea,” he said, “The Internet is becoming an important and vital part of everybody’s business.”
And Danielle Ragosta, office manager at Forest Park Auto Repair, said it was nice because both businesses and consumers can easily access the site.
“It’s an easier way to find businesses instead of going to Yellow Pages,” she said. “It’s a super-easy website. It’s nice that they would even do it.”
But the program is still in its infancy and imperfect, officials admit.
Commissioner Chris Harris said the biggest challenge facing the program is outreach. The village has not yet come up with a way to distribute the cards to all of its residents. Even some property owners in condominiums are currently not receiving the cards in the mail because they don’t receive individual water bills.
Forest Parker Lester Nixon said that he thinks the program is a great idea, and he’s in favor of supporting local businesses, but he lives in an apartment, so he’s among the residents who were not sent information about the program. He found out about it on Facebook, he said.
Harris said the village should consider newspaper advertising, and Nixon suggested that officials use public television for exposure. The village has not utilized either method of communication just yet, but Calderone called the public television option “a good idea.”
According to a $14,000 contract the village signed with Ohio-based Governing Dynamic, LLC, in September, the company is responsible for much of the advertising and promotion of the program.
It has done some already, including creating a Web presence and printing promotional stickers and posters.
Calderone and Commissioner Tom Mannix said they have also made personal visits to businesses, and are working on ways to reach out to higher-density building owners, so tenants are aware of BEST
Right now, Mannix said, the village has no real “concrete” plan.
Common sentiment among most of the officials and businesses interviewed is that overall, the program is a good idea, but its effectiveness will depend on its execution.