Shopping for beers?

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August 13, 2002 // UPDATED 1:29 pm - April 30, 2007
By: Sam Grabarski
Sam Grabarski

As travel remains slow, businesspeople ponder creative incentives to keep workers buying Downtown

Shocking news reached the media recently that drinking beer might be good for you. Two large-scale studies indicate those who drank moderate amounts of beer had less hypertension and lower risk of coronary-artery disease. Because of qualities not yet understood, beer may even increase bone density and reduce the risk of fractures. This may explain why so few people break their necks when they fall off bar stools.

Would you like to receive a free beer for shopping Downtown? I've been contacting central business district associations across the country asking for their newest ideas about promoting retail sales. Stores in downtown Ithaca are being linked to restaurants for the redemption of coupons for free food or drink when customers buy at least $25 in retail merchandise at any one time. The coupons are issued during the slower months of the year when everyone is especially interested in new customers. They're thinking about a fast-food version of these coupons that would entitle shoppers to two-for-one lunches, which probably nixes the beer.

Several cities are trying "Value Card" programs. Everyone working in a central business district is given a special card that entitles him or her to discounts at participating stores. Merchants set their own discount levels and any pertaining conditions. Students are often included in these promotions. Downtown associations usually publish the list of stores in the program, with updates contained on a website. Value Card programs are thought to be a special perk for working in a central business district, since no one else holds them.

Others are experimenting with "community loyalty programs." People may support their favorite charities by swiping a special card through a device that records a 10 percent credit on the sale of merchandise to a pool of non-profits and charities. Part of the proceeds pay for operating the program. Patrons of these programs may sometimes accumulate points towards future purchases. Any stores that redeem these points would receive the full cash value of the sales from the 10 percent credit pool. A version of this concept is now being developed in the Twin Cities metro area.

Comparing notes on retail promotions with other downtowns is perplexing, because there aren't many stories to share. Minneapolis is one of the few cities still trying to have retail shopping on weekdays, evenings and weekends. In fact, the national website used by downtown business associations to share case studies has only one retail promotion listed (for a Value Card program). By the way, my inquiry to downtown Detroit drew a short but funny response -- which said they'd first need to recruit some retail stores before running any retail


The Downtown Council recently hosted a working group of store managers, event promoters and hospitality professionals to discuss this year's seasonal promotions. The slowing economy and a weak hospitality market are continuing to put us in a blue mood. We agreed that promotions linked to downtown's 167,000 workers would make the most sense. Free and speedy delivery of packages to home or office would be a good first step. Mayor R.T. Rybak offered his idea for a "What's The Rush?" promotion. Instead of sitting in rush hour traffic, the hours after the workday ends could become a time of incentives to stick around for stress-free shopping, food, events or the new movies on Block E.

We've made the decision to offer a second year of the FlyBuy Holiday Retail Promotion. Shoppers will receive 100 miles for every $100 spent in 80 participating stores between Friday, Nov. 22 and Tuesday, Dec. 31. The cap has been raised to 4,000 miles per individual, which should be a welcome surprise to anyone buying an engagement ring about then. If the shopper holds their own travel-related credit card, they could double their miles by charging their purchases. The FlyBuy program is exclusive to downtown Minneapolis in this region, but as far as we can tell, no other central business district association from Detroit to Portland has anything like it.

Those media reports about beer drinking defined "moderate drinking" as one 12-ounce beer a day for women and up to two a day for men. Six drinks a day were reported to offer no benefits, and instead offer risks for obesity, liver failure, and strokes. Six beers will add strokes to your golf game, too, but your dense bones won't break when you fall off the cart.

Sam Grabarski is president and CEO of the Minneapolis Downtown Council, a group of business leaders.