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Ib.l.a.s.t. Celebrates First Anniversary

Merchants say the buy-local program is helping revitalize the downtown economy.

Barbara Davis and Carolyn Williams seem to be on to something. A year ago they launched Ib.l.a.s.t., short for "I buy local and shop in town", to drive business to New Canaan merchants and raise money for local non-profits to enliven downtown. About one in five households here have gotten Ib.l.a.s.t. cards for discounts and special offers at now over one hundred participating merchants. Business owners are raving about it.

"I'm all for getting the economy of New Canaan up and going again and I believe in the power of this program," said Lorenzo Colella, owner of Joe's Pizza, which his father started in 1967.

Colella estimates that five out of every ten of his customers use the card, and that his discount offer to cardholders has also brought additional business, like larger orders for school events. He's such a fan of Ib.l.a.s.t. he's also selling the card at his restaurant.

Hairquarters West Manager Melanie Horvath is selling the card too. She says participating in the program has not only kept existing customers coming in for services like regular blow-outs, but it has been the catalyst for new customers to try out the salon.

"With the way the economy has been, it's a great concept to keep people shopping in town," Horvath said.

The salon promotes special monthly offers for card holders in Ib.l.a.s.t.'s newsletters, e-mails to its own customer list, and on its Web site.

"The program has helped make New Canaan a destination for people who know they can save by shopping local," said Elizabeth Correa, co-owner of Candy Nichols. She says I.b.l.a.s.t. is driving customer loyalty and new clientele as about 30 percent of her customers are using the card.

Tucker Murphy, Chamber of Commerce Executive Director, says Ib.l.a.s.t.'s success is due to offering powerful tools to both merchants and consumers.

Murphy says the program's robust consumer database gives participating merchants "an effective communication tool"; she says the master calendar of in-town happenings at iblastcard.com is, "the first of it's kind to put all the information in one place."

Ib.l.a.s.t., Murphy says, has, "raised the level of awareness with residents that to keep the shops downtown alive they have to frequent them."

Murphy had attended a presentation for The 3/50 Project, a national program dedicated to helping keep independent brick and mortar businesses alive. That program encourages consumers to spend $50 at three local stores every month. Murphy concluded that "Ib.l.a.s.t. is a successful local version of it, so we didn't need to do one here."

Stamford has even recognized the success of New Canaan's program and asked Davis and Williams to help them set up their own program, which later launched as I-Shop Stamford Downtown.

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