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New Calgary Dollars app will encourage citizens to spend locally

Calgary Dollars are going digital, and the creators hope that the new online currency will help foster local business and commerce.

Although they’ve been around in one form or another since the mid-1990s, two new apps that are officially launching next week will make it easier for people to spend Calgary Dollars in the city.

A city-wide Calgary Dollars app will allow users to shop at participating stores. In addition to that, a Victoria Park app will allow shoppers to easily find participating businesses in that district that accept their Calgary Dollars, and take advantage of special offers.

Victoria Park app users will get 10 per cent cash back in Calgary Dollars on their purchases according to Victoria Park Business Improvement Area (BIA) executive director David Low.

“Our tagline is don’t spend more – spend differently,” he said. “It will just keep money circulating locally.”

He explained that the Victoria Park app uses Calgary Dollars, but the money that flows through that app is backed by the BIA. That means users’ money is secure and can be exchanged for Canadian dollars at any time.

“The Victoria Park BIA is acting like a bank in guaranteeing a certain amount of the Calgary Dollars. If at some point you’re feeling this isn’t worthwhile, we will redeem that at a one-to-one ratio.”

Businesses will also be able to add their own promotions. So a bar could offer 20 per cent cash back on certain drinks for those who pay with the Victoria Park app.

Low said the app is of benefit to the business owners as well, because they can more easily track how well their promotions worked.

“One of the things we’re hoping to achieve is that we’ll help businesses better track what they’re doing in terms of promotion and marketing,” said Lowe. “We know most small businesses only retain 30 to 40 per cent of their customers. We want to give them better tools to attract and retain customers.”

Solita Work is the owner of ReWorks Calgary, a business in Victoria Park that will be accepting Calgary Dollars.

She said she thinks younger people in the city want to support local business but they don’t always know how, and the Victoria Park app especially will help them do that and see the benefits.

“My view of the city is that we have this really young progressive population ruled by a bunch of old farts who have zero vision, and they just want to maintain status quo,” she said with a laugh.

“I think this is an option that’s going to appeal to that younger demographic.”

She worries that if people don’t support local and unique stores, all we’ll have left are big-box retailers.

The app was spearheaded by Gerald Wheatly at the Arusha Centre, a not-for-profit that aims to support community building and social justice.

He said the official launch is next week, but people can download the apps today and see how it will work.

He noted that the app will also have a Kijiji-style marketplace where Calgarians can buy and sell used goods, and make their payments with Calgary Dollars.

Like the 10 per cent discount on Victoria Park Purchases, the marketplace will also come with an incentive, according to Wheatly.

“When you take out an ad, up to your first five ads you get five Calgary Dollars per ad,” he said. “So you make money.”

The Calgary Dollars app will take a half a percent on the purchase transaction in the marketplace, but Wheatly notes that’s much lower than the Paypal fees that can come with a Kijiji purchase.

For more information on the apps, visit calgarydollars.ca.