Homer Alaska - Business

Story last updated at 4:59 PM on Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Homer's shopping derby takes flight

By McKibben Jackinsky
Staff Writer

Just in time for the first official wave of visitors to arrive in Homer during this weekend's Kachemak Bay Shorebird Festival, the Homer Chamber of Commerce and Visitor Center and — to date — 54 participating merchants have launched the Homer Shopping Derby.

The derby began May 1 and continues through Labor Day with a drawing for the grand prize of $5,000 held near the end of September.

A kick-off event was held at Land's End last Thursday so participating merchants' questions could be answered and not-yet participating merchants could learn how to sign up.

The idea of a shopping derby came to Monte Davis, chamber and visitor center executive director, last summer.

"I was standing on the boardwalk at AJs in Old Town, looking across the street into the RV park and I saw four or five women standing around talking. It looked like they were getting ready to go shopping and I realized that probably most of them had come here with someone out participating in the halibut derby and I just had the thought that we need to give them a derby to win something big, too," said Davis.

After becoming the chamber and visitor center executive director last year, Davis said he heard the complaint that the chamber only represented the visitor industry, specifically businesses located on the Spit.

"I didn't know if it was true or just a perception, but one way or the other, I wanted to figure out some way to help all of our members, some way for the chamber to unquestionably do its best to drive business to everybody," said Davis.

Timeless Toys, located on Main Street, is one of the participating merchants.

"We're just putting up posters and getting started with it," said owner Becky Pfeil. "I think it's going to be fun. Something new — it's fun to try something new. And it's a chance to win $5,000."

Nomar, at the corner of Pioneer Avenue and Main Street, is another participating business.

"The chamber had gone down a bad path by putting all its eggs in one halibut basket and to have them kind of wake up and see there were other opportunities and other businesses that might be served in the community is a good thing," said owner Kate Mitchell, former chamber board member, referring to the popular Homer Jackpot Halibut Derby.

"The more people that participate in the shopping derby, the better chance of it being successful," she said. "I hope everybody chooses to participate."

With Shorebird Festival visitors beginning to arrive, and 10 tickets already sold, Mitchell said, "We're all set. There's a couple more little posters to get up, but the retail staff has been explaining it well, pushing it well and people are like, 'oh cool, sounds great.'"

Derby rules are simple, nothing more than a five-step process for shoppers:

• Buy a $10 derby ticket from a participating Homer Chamber of Commerce and Visitor Center member;

• Shop at any participating member location;

• Spend between $1 and $100 to have your derby ticket stamped;

• Get four stamps and receive another chance to win $5,000;

• Buy another derby ticket and repeat the steps as necessary.

Participating merchants can be identified by the shopping derby symbol: a soaring eagle clutching a yellow shopping bag in its talons.

An updated list of participating businesses will be available on the chamber's new website to be launched May 18, with changes made almost a quickly as other merchant signs up. A printed version will be available every week.

For those businesses not yet part of the derby but wanting to learn more, chamber representatives are available to explain it.

"We're more than willing to come right to your store. If you're having a staff meeting, we can come talk, whatever. We just want to reach out and really help make this as simple as possible," said Davis.

Fifty percent of what the chamber makes on the sale of derby tickets will become dedicated marketing funds, "so the money we earn from this goes right straight into marketing to bring visitors here," said Davis. "Visitors and maybe new community members. Maybe new businesses."

Mitchell characterized the derby as "our leap of faith."

"And that's what you do when you try to make something successful," she said. "It's excellent to have another activity going on in Homer."

For more on the Homer Shopping Derby, call the chamber at 235-7740, email membership@homeralaska.org or visit www.homeralaska.org.

McKibben Jackinsky can be reached at mckibben.jackinsky@homernews.com