Hermiston Pilot Program Aims to Give Financial Boost to Restaurants

The city of Hermiston is partnering with the Hermiston Chamber of Commerce to create the Restaurant Assistance Pilot Program. (Photo by Michael Kane)

Hermiston restaurants will get a shot in the arm in an effort to help them beat the pandemic blues.

The shot, to be administered by the city of Hermiston and the Hermiston Chamber of Commerce, will be in the form of $10 gift cards that will be distributed to residents. The goal, said Hermiston Assistant City Manager Mark Morgan, is not just to get some cash flowing into the restaurants, but to get the eat-at-home crowd – which has grown significantly during the COVID-19 pandemic – to dine out more these days.

“We want to get folks back into the habit of going back in and patronizing these local businesses,” Morgan said during Monday’s Hermiston City Council meeting.

The city will spend $50,000 on the program with the chamber will be tasked with administering it. The money will come from the American Recovery Plan Act.

The Restaurant Assistance Pilot Program would involve getting participating restaurants to give out $10 gift cards to the chamber and city for distribution throughout the community. Restaurants would then be reimbursed by turning in the used gift cards.

The cards will be distributed by the chamber, the Hermiston Public Library, and the Hermiston Parks & Recreation Department. The city would also distribute cards to utility customers.

Participating restaurants do not have to be chamber members.

The expectation is that many folks will spend more than the $10 loaded into the gift card and, hopefully, become returning customers.

Morgan said the city tried a similar program last year to help the theater and bowling alley and received good feedback from both businesses.

Councilor Roy Barron wanted to make sure every restaurant – particularly the smaller mom-and-pop restaurants – are made aware of the program so they, too, will benefit.

Councilor Nancy Peterson suggested creating a map of all the locations of participating restaurants to encourage residents to try new places.

Hermiston Mayor Dave Drotzmann said the price tag is not significant, but it can provide a needed boost to struggling businesses.

“Restaurants have just been hammered time and time again this year,” he said. “We’re trying to do, as a city, what we can do to help support (restaurants) financially. If it’s successful and beneficial to the community, maybe we can look at expanding it as we get more resources.”

The council voted 6-0 to direct staff to develop and implement the pilot program. Councilor Phillip Spicerkuhn recused himself due to a potential conflict.