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Small town's 'stimulus plan' rewards buyers

  • Story Highlights
  • "Stimulus plan" in Lamar, Colorado, consists of gift certificates
  • Spending a designated amount in town is rewarded
  • Idea goes back to Great Depression, administrator says
  • "You can't always wait" for a federal bailout, car dealer says
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By Jim Spellman
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LAMAR, COLORADO (CNN) -- While most of America waits for federal stimulus money to make its way into wallets, one small town on the Colorado plains has taken matters into its own hands by launching its own economic recovery plan.

Jack Jones shows off two $30 gift certificates he received for spending $600 in one of Lamar's stores.

Ron Stock is the city administrator of Lamar, Colorado, and came up with the town's "stimulus plan."

Here's how it works: Spend $300 in the city of Lamar on anything but groceries, pharmaceuticals, booze or your utility bills, and the city will give you a gift certificate good for $30 at any store in Lamar. Couples can double up and get a $60 gift certificate on a $600 purchase. Shoppers can save up receipts until they have $300 worth of purchases. The offer runs through the month of April.

Buy a car -- new or used -- and the city will give you a gift card good for $100 worth of gas at any gas station in Lamar.

"We're trying to stimulate the economy, we're trying to build some sales in a time of the year when there's not a lot of sales going on," says city administrator Ron Stock, the mastermind behind the plan.

Lamar is a city of about 8,500 people. The economy relies mostly on local farmers who raise corn, wheat and sunflowers for sunflower oil. The shops that line Main Street are mostly mom-and-pops. Several of them sit empty.

"We felt we had to act aggressively because there might be a risk that some of the businesses couldn't last until June," says Stock. "It could make a significant difference for many of the stores. It may be the difference between staying in business and going out of business."

Stock got the idea from a surprising place.

"I really looked back at what cities had done during the Great Depression," he says. "I saw that cash had sometimes been very tight and cities had issued scrip to keep the economy going."

Scrip is currency that is only good in one community; in Lamar's case, gift certificates substitute for scrip.

Stock says the city anticipates shelling out $50,000 worth of gift certificates.

One of the first to take advantage of the program was Jack Jones. Last week, with a blizzard bearing down on Lamar, Jones decided it was time to replace his 15-year-old snow blower. He went down to Lamar Small Engine and picked out a new Troy-Bilt blower. The total came to $599 -- a buck short of the $600 required to get the $60 worth of gift certificates under the couples plan -- so he picked up a new level to put him over the top.

Jones hasn't decided how he'll spend his stimulus money yet, but he is enjoying the decision-making process.

"It's such a big decision, I haven't worked it out yet!" he says with a laugh. "My wife and I like to go out to eat, so we thought probably we'll have a couple of times where we go out to eat."

Jones has more to gain from the stimulus plan than a night out with his wife. He also owns the local Radio Shack franchise and hopes the plan will boost his business.

"My hopes are that it will get everybody thinking that now is the time to get out and start buying things," says Jones. "We need to get back to business as usual. Everybody has been frightened about what's coming up, and when you're frightened you hang onto your money and be prepared."

A few blocks up Main Street, Roger Stagner is proud of Lamar's small-town stimulus program. He runs Stagner Inc., a used car and motorcycle dealership that his father started 48 years ago. He is also a city councilman and says Lamar can't wait for the federal stimulus plan.

"A lot of the [federal] government programs are aimed at the big businesses. They're not aimed at the people that are actually spending the money. This is aimed at the people spending the money," says Stagner, who also hopes the program will give the town a morale boost.

"You try something and if it helps the economy, if it helps how people feel about the community, it's a good thing."

Stagner has lived his whole life in Lamar and isn't surprised that his hometown is doing what it can to help itself.

"I think it's a trait of a lot of your small towns. You can't always wait for the [federal] government to come bail you out."

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