Mystic Chamber launches Go Local gift card

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Mystic — Al Valente envisions the new Go Local gift card as the Goldilocks of gift-giving.

"If you give someone a specific gift, it's hit or miss," he said. "It might be something they love, it might be something they hate, but it's endearing." Cash, on the other hand, can come off as impersonal.

Enter the Greater Mystic Chamber of Commerce, of which Valente is chairman of the board, and several dozen Mystic-area shops, restaurants, hotels, arts facilities and tourist destinations.

Valente said that 48 businesses are installed on the card, with 30 more to come in the next couple weeks.

The chamber held a launch party for the gift card — replacing the paper-based Mystic Dollars program, which Valente called "cumbersome" — at the newly renovated Whaler's Inn on Tuesday evening.

Here's how it works: You can go to the chamber's welcome center, at 62 Greenmanville Ave., and load up to $500 on the sea-themed card designed by Rita Rivera. People can soon purchase cards online.

Establishments at which one could swipe the card include Mystic Aquarium, Mystic Seaport, Spicer Gas, Fields of Fire, Stonington Vineyards, Oyster Club, Captain Daniel Packer Inne, Mystic Market and Bank Square Books. For a full list of participants, visit bit.ly/MYChamberCards.

Valente first came up with the idea for the Go Local gift card in 2010 but found the technology wasn't user-friendly enough until about three years ago. Even then, the initial investment was "staggering," so the chamber put the idea on the back burner.

But thanks to the support of Olde Mistick Village as the premier sponsor, the chamber could contract with the payment services provider EML to create a closed-loop card.

"We believe in giving back to the community, to the point where this will be successful and it will help everybody in this area," Olde Mistick Village developer and owner Joyce Resnikoff said.

Chamber President Peggy Roberts noted the card will incentivize customers to spend a little — or a lot — more, because people don't want to leave money on a card. The card went live on Tuesday; Roberts noted she was successful in spending the first $5 at the Main Street clothing store Catherine M.

Many participants are offering discounts, meaning one could spend more on the card than it cost to purchase.

Whaler's Inn General Manager Amanda Arling said the card will be a great way to package and promote. Susette Tibus, owner of the jewelry store Simply Majestic, called participating a "no-brainer."

"We're the economic engine here," she said. "The most important is you're really supporting your neighbor and your community. What better way to spend your money?"

e.moser@theday.com

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