The Alberni Valley Chamber of Commerce and Visitor Centre, located on the Alberni Highway. (AV NEWS FILE PHOTO)

Port Alberni gift card site kickstarts post-COVID-19 economy

City, chamber of commerce collaborate on novel ‘shop local’ plan

A new website aims to help people in Port Alberni shop local during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The City of Port Alberni and the Alberni Valley Chamber of Commerce are partnering to launch a gift card site called Better Buy Port Alberni, and local businesses have until the end of the month to sign up for free.

Chamber of Commerce CEO Bill Collette describes Better Buy Port Alberni as a “landing site” where people can find local businesses and purchase gift cards.

“Within that site are tiles of all the different participating businesses,” said Collette. “Even if the business has never had an online presence, they can still sell gift cards or products or services. It’s like a mall—you can stop at the mall and visit any store at the mall.”

The website is open to more than just vendors, Collette emphasized. Everyone from plumbers to electricians can also sign up to sell their services.

“Almost every business needs an online presence these days,” said Collette. “We’ve been wanting to do a gift card program for a long time. When COVID hit, it re-initiated that determination to get things going.”

The website will be funded in part by the City of Port Alberni’s economic development department, which announced earlier this month that it was putting $140,000 in support towards small businesses trying to recover from the pandemic.

READ MORE: City of Port Alberni offers COVID-19 supports for small businesses

Collette said he “stumbled upon” the Better Buy Sooke initiative, a partnership between the Sooke Region Chamber of Commerce and the business group Webmax Marketing. The owner of Webmax, said Collette, has “strong ties” to the Alberni Valley.

“We jumped at the opportunity to partner with them,” said Collette. “It was just kind of a fluke. It was something that fell into our laps.”

Business owners just have to fill out a sign-up sheet at and Webmax will then be in contact with the applicant to design and finalize their site. The site will offer a secure, direct sales transaction between consumers and participating businesses in the Alberni Valley—people can “buy now, redeem later” as COVID-19 restrictions are lifted.

Port Alberni has been hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic—especially since the restrictions came after a nearly eight-month-long forestry strike.

“When the economy slowed to a near stop in mid-March, many of our local businesses lost all or most of their income,” said Collette. “Our businesses need to get re-started. We need the community to support local businesses—this is just one way to do that. We’re re-training, all of us, to shop online.”

Participation is free for businesses—but only if they sign up by May 28.

“Any business that signs up before the end of the month signs up for free,” explained Collette. “You’ll get a small website built for no charge at all for the balance of this year. We’re hoping that most people will jump at it in the next few days.”

Starting in 2021, businesses will have to pay a “small monthly fee” for inclusion on the website, said Collette.

“But they wouldn’t have to carry on,” he added.

Any business, including those with a limited or non-existent online presence, can sign up. The landing site will be “heavily marketed,” added Collette, which will lead to more views for websites that have already been built.

“We’re hopeful that it will take off,” said Collette. “The one in Sooke has 66 businesses and well over $6,000 in sales in two weeks. Why can’t we do that well, or better?”

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