By Natalie Duddridge

NEWARK, N.J. (CBSNewYork) — There’s a new way to support local businesses in Newark crushed by the coronavirus.

A gift card program is giving consumers extra cash to spend in the neighborhood.

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As CBS2’s Natalie Duddridge reported Tuesday, at the Green Chic Pea on Halsey Street, owner Martin Weber said customers used to stop in for lunch during their workday. That all changed when people were forced to work from home.

“People used to stand outside in front of the store on line to get in. And now we would hope the door would be opened,” Weber said. “We’re down almost 75-80%.”

Down the block at the Brown Mill clothing store, the co-founders took a risk and opened during the pandemic.

“At first, we were a little hesitant. A lot of people were telling us this is the worst time to start a local business,” said co-founder Kwaku Agyemang.

“We were a little nervous, but we got so much support from our community,” added manager Elijah Pitt.

Both of the businesses, new and old, are relying on that continued support to survive, but stats currently show foot traffic in downtown Newark dropped more than 60%, according to the consulting firm HR&A Advisors, which used cellphone data to come up with the results.

To make up for lost sales, a nonprofit partnered with a local corporation to create a gift card promotion to encourage people to shop locally.

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“We were able to incentivize people. You buy a $25 gift card, you get a 40% bonus… $25, get $10; $50, get $20; $100, get $40,” said Tamara Remedios of XPLRE Communications.

Watch Natalie Duddridge’s interview with Newark Alliance CEO Evan Weiss —

Remedios came up with the idea. She teamed up with the Newark Alliance and Prudential Financial, which gave $25,000 to make it happen.

“The businesses love it. It’s an easy sell for them. There’s no additional cost for them. You run it just like a MasterCard. There’s no apps, no technology, no invoicing. They get paid in 24 hours,” Remedios said.

At Brown Mill, they said the gift card programs shine a light on what’s already there, building community empowerment and engagement.

So instead of ordering a T-shirt on Amazon, the Brown Mill clothing company said it will hand-make one right in the store, and the customer will have a one-of-a-kind holiday gift. The store will be helping community members thrive.

People can use the card at more than 85 businesses, and it will never expire — but the additional 40% bonus amount is available only for a limited time, through the end of 2022.

For more information about the gift card, CLICK HERE. For more information about the Newark Alliance, CLICK HERE.

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This story first appeared on Dec. 7, 2021 and has since been updated. 

Natalie Duddridge