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Onondaga County gift card program sells out in hours

Ellen Abbott

An Onondaga County program meant to offer a boost to local restaurants business has been a quick success. The “Keeping it Local” restaurant gift card matching program sold $500,000 worth of vouchers in five hours Tuesday.

County Executive Ryan McMahon announced specifics of the economic development plan at 10 a.m. Tuesday. Less than five hours later he tweeted that the program was closed. The matching program essentially doubled the value of gift cards bought at 174 participating restaurants, by way of a matching county voucher. 

Officials say it wasn’t difficult to get restaurants involved.

Maria Santangelo-DeSalis said it was an easy decision for her family's restaurant, Santangelo’s in Liverpool.

“We said absolutely, there was no question about it. So I called my brother and my mom and said this is what we have to do,” Santangelo-DeSalis said.

McMahon said the idea for the county matching program was to boost an industry ravaged by the pandemic. 

“Last year our sales tax item for restaurants was off 33%,” McMahon said. “If you think about that, some did better than others adapting. But that would tell you some restaurants lost 30-40% of their revenue year over year. It’s still challenging but this is a shot in the arm.”

This success means the program could be extended. A county spokesman said that decision is expected next week, after officials see how quickly people redeem the vouchers for gift cards. Anyone with a voucher must redeem it at a local restaurant by May 10, but can be used at any time.

McMahon also wants the program to be a vehicle for getting the word out about the success of the coronavirus vaccine in Onondaga County. Two-thirds of eligible residents will have gotten their first vaccines at least, by the end of this week.

“The vaccine works, we know it works, the data shows it works,” he said. “If you’re vaccinated, you don’t have anything to worry about. Go out and enjoy yourself."

Ellen produces news reports and features related to events that occur in the greater Syracuse area and throughout Onondaga County. Her reports are heard regularly in regional updates in Morning Edition and All Things Considered.