Hamilton’s $300K fund helping local businesses
Gift certificates are available online to buy from 62 local companies.
Leonard Ross is working a smoker Wednesday at Neal’s Famous BBQ in Hamilton. The city council spent $300,000 to buy gift certificates to help the businesses, like Neal’s, with cash infusions. NICK GRAHAM / STAFF
By Mike Rutledge
Staff Writer


HAMILTON — The Greater Hamilton Chamber of Commerce has launched a website to sell gift certificates that are helping Hamilton businesses stay afloat.

Two business owners whose companies were able to remain open during the state’s shut-down orders for nonessential businesses said they were grateful for the program, which was financed by a $300,000 loan from Hamilton city government.

The website’s address is www. hamiltongiftcards.com.

The website lists 62 companies with gift certificates available.

Each business applied for financial assistance through the program. The Hamilton Economic Development Corporation will recoup the $300,000 over time when people buy gift certificates, which are being sold in $25 and $50 amounts.

Chamber president and CEO Dan Bates said many Ohio cities have been calling him, applauding the effort, wanting to know how they can imitate it.

The companies will earn their part of the money by providing the goods and services purchased through the gift certificates, which are on sale now, but they cannot be redeemed until June 1.

“It’ll allow us to keep the doors open for another day,” said Chris Pfefferle, owner of Pfefferle Tire & Auto. “It’s dayby-day, honestly. Right now, we’re trucking along. We’ve had a turn down in business, so it helps us keep on going for another day.”

Companies in the program include restaurants, bars, micro-breweries, gift shops, personal services, entertainment and sports.

“It was a help to us,” Pfefferle said. “In these times, shoot, everybody needs something, so that was an instant little help for us. Hopefully they can get out there in the community and get people buying them, and get some people in here.”

Mike Neal, owner of Neal’s Famous BBQ, was thankful for the city help, and said business, which initially dropped significantly, now has risen to about half what it had been.

He said curbside pickup business has increased “because everyone is banding together to support one another.”

Neal’s grab-and-go business on the West Side has been open on weekends, but will expand its hours in coming weeks, he said. He also has added $5 pickup specials.

“When the pandemic first happened, business was very slow,” he said. “We saw a huge drop because there were no dine-ins, but as everyone started banding together, we have seen a tremendous increase.”

At first, there was just a handful of customers. But now, “we’re getting back up to halfway of where we were,” said Neal, who has been in business 18 years.

“We hired a few more people, and called a couple of them back,” thanks to the cash infusion. Including him and his wife, he has 10 employees now.

How long can his business survive if Ohio’s stay-at-home orders continue several more weeks, or longer? “Through much prayer, we believe that we can survive, and we will survive, as long as we keep a great product out and continue to be optimistic about things,” he said.

There’s a variety of participating companies, including Bee Driving School, Milillo’s Pizza, Hyde’s Restaurant, Future Great Wrestling, Main Street Vinyl, Immortal Fitness, Arches Saloon and Revive Salon.

Pfefferle said initially, business was steady, but about a week ago, “it dipped, and we have not come back from that yet. It’s different every day, but at the same time, let’s hope this stuff ends in a couple weeks.”

To potential customers, Pfefferle has this message: “We’re here. We’re essential.

We’re open for business. So don’t forget about us.”

While people work at home, his company will pick up and return their vehicles, including disinfecting it, he said: “We can keep you going, while we keep us going.”

As for the city providing $300,000 from its $2 million Budget-Stabilization Fund, Pfefferle said: “The city’s really looking out for their small businesses. Who knows what’s going to happen after this ends, right? “When you think about what the city’s done for us by offering this program and doing this, they’re really invested in their businesses, and it makes me a proud Hamiltonian.”