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Community response to COVID-19 — Crookston

Key takeaways

  • Maintain community awareness
  • Build support for local businesses
  • Use Chamber Bucks program to run “buy local” campaign

Local chamber maintains support network for area businesses

People holding a shop small sign at the real good store in Crookston, MN

After Minnesota Governor Tim Walz announced a statewide emergency in response to COVID-19, the Crookston Chamber (CC) took immediate action to support Crookston-area businesses. First, CC visited downtown businesses and posted “We are all in this together” signage around Crookston. The purpose of the posters was to encourage and create a sense of solidarity among residents and businesses as they faced the pandemic.

Next, CC launched a marketing campaign that included videos, short messages, and community Facebook pages. The marketing campaign’s short messages offered information about store hours, encouragement, comfort, and connectivity during the pandemic. Videos about Chamber members were posted on the Chamber’s Facebook page and those of individual business owners.

To reach more people with resources and news about COVID-19, CC partnered with the local radio station, KROX, and the local newspaper, the Crookston Times. The Chamber also posted a COVID-19 financial resource page on its website. During this time, CC realized the value of social media in getting information out to its audience, which grew by about 200 Facebook followers. To learn what other communities were doing to address the pandemic, CC also increased its engagement with the Minnesota Chamber and Minnesota Association of Convention and Visitors Bureaus, both of which helped CC leadership better understand what was happening elsewhere in Minnesota.

From communicating regularly with local business owners, CC knew access to fiscal relief for business operations was important. At the time, COVID-19 stimulus packages evolved quickly, and it was challenging to stay updated on the different financial support packages available. To help local business owners navigate the process, the Chamber served as a resource about the various packages. CC leadership was diligent about staying apprised of different stimulus packages and who to refer area businesses to for the correct assistance package.

Campaign success story

The Crookston Chamber revitalized its Chamber Bucks program to help businesses stay afloat during the pandemic. The program was designed so community and business members could visit the Chamber and buy a certain amount of locally traded vouchers — “Chamber Bucks” — to spend at area businesses. Businesses then turn in this currency to the local chamber for accounting. CC’s effort focused on keeping resident spending within the local community. This was particularly important, as businesses in nearby Grand Forks, and North Dakota in general, had not closed due to the pandemic. Running the program required significant time and energy, but CC leaders felt its return on investment was worth it.

The reboot of the Chamber Bucks program during COVID-19 had several components. First, consumers drove the program with purchases from local businesses. If a consumer purchased something at a Crookston business, a percentage of that purchase could be reimbursed by the Chamber. The Chamber then reimbursed residents by using Chamber Bucks. These Chamber Bucks, in turn, could be used by the consumer for additional purchases in Crookston. Consumers could either mail or drop off their receipts with the Chamber, and the Chamber mailed back the Chamber Bucks. Receipts per household could not exceed $500, and 10 percent of that amount was paid out as Chamber Bucks.

Financing for the initial purchase of the program’s Chamber Bucks came from the Crookston Housing and Economic Development Authority. In total, CC received just over $214,000 in consumer receipts during March and April with a total of $15,880 in Chamber Bucks distributed back to residents. Chamber Bucks are good for one year, but some businesses have already received payments of $90-$100 in Chamber Bucks immediately following the close of the program (due to limited funding).  

For CC leadership, the most important aspect of engaging with area businesses has been making sure Crookston businesses know they are not alone in dealing with COVID-19 — and that the community will be there for them during a difficult time. Hosting the Chamber Bucks program, in particular, created excitement, positive energy, and kept local dollars within the community.

Who can you follow up with for more information about this project?

 Terri Heggie, executive director, Crookston Chamber, theggie@visitcrookston.com

Author(s)

Rani Bhattacharyya, community economics educator, University of Minnesota Extension

Reviewed in 2020

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