The Union Democrat

Business owners say RAD Card program is a hit


About $107,000 remained in Tuolumne County’s RAD card fund as of Monday, with some local business owners saying they’ve already conducted dozens of transactio­ns since the program launched last week.

Nearly $350,000 worth of the electronic gift cards had been purchased as of Monday out of the $ 455,755 that was available when they first went on sale less than two weeks ago, according to Cole Przybyla, the county innovation and business assistance director.

Przybyla did not yet have a tally on how much has actually been spent at participat­ing local businesses as of Tuesday afternoon.

More than 140 businesses throughout the county have signed up to accept RAD card transactio­ns as of Tuesday, with Przybyla saying more are being added each day.

The so-called RAD cards, which stands for Relief Across Downtown, is a program designed by the nonprofit organizati­on Downtown Modesto Partnershi­p Inc. originally to help businesses in Stanislaus County that had been hurt by the COVID-19 pandemic.

In September, the Tuolumne County Board of Supervisor­s approved setting aside $500,000 to implement the program locally out of about $10.6 million the county is due to receive from the $1.9 trillion federal American Rescue Plan Act economic stimulus bill passed by Congress and signed into law by President Joe Biden in March.

People are able to purchase the RAD cards exclusivel­y through the RADCARD smartphone app that can be found on the Apple or Google Play app stores. There is no other way to purchase them physically or outside of the smartphone app.

The county will equally match whatever amount of money someone puts into their RAD card account up to a maximum of $100, meaning anyone who puts $100 in their account will get $200 to spend only at those listed local businesses that have signed up to participat­e.

John Russel, co-owner of Mountain Bookshop at The Junction Shopping Center in East Sonora, said he was skeptical about the program when he first heard about it.

“We’ve been in business 44 years and during that time we’ve seen a lot of plans come up to increase business, so I said, ‘Well, here’s just another one,’ ” he said.

Russel said he neverthele­ss signed his business up to accept the RAD card transactio­ns, which are done exclusivel­y inperson via smartphone­s using a unique signature assigned to each.

A couple of customers came into Russel’s store to use the cards on the first day it officially launched last Wednesday, and he’s done more than 60 RAD card transactio­ns over the past three business days they have been open.

“The interestin­g thing I saw was people would see other customers using this app on their cell phone and would ask what’s that, then the enthusiasm in people’s voices as they described it,” Russel said. “It’s $100 of free money.”

Russel said he’s not sure whether any of those customers would have come to buy something from his shop anyway, but he’s noticed an “increased enthusiasm for shopping” among those who do have the cards.

When the initial $455,755 allocated to the program runs out, Russel said he hopes the county Board of Supervisor­s will consider putting additional funds from the American Rescue Plan Act toward it.

“I really see this as an advantage to local merchants and also to local people who could use $100,” he said. “It’s COVID relief money that’s designed to help the economy, and this is exactly what it’s doing. It’s spreading it out. It’s egalitaria­n in that respect. It’s not money going to just one entity, it’s going to lots of individual­s.”

KC Hedges, co-owner of Little Roots Toy Shop on South Washington Street in downtown Sonora, said his business has done nearly 150 RAD card transactio­ns in less than a week.

Hedges said his business has actually done well despite being closed for several months last year during the pandemic, with 2020 being their biggest year for sales since opening their doors in 2016.

This year is on track to be the biggest ever for Little Roots, with Hedges saying he and other small businesses in the area are appreciati­ve of all the help they can get.

“I think it’s incredibly helpful to small businesses like ours,” he said. “I’ve talked to other business owners in town and generally they are all excited about it.”

Hedges said he’s informed a number of customers about the program and helped them set up their accounts on their phones, including Rick Oneto, who had a philanthro­pic way of spending his “free” money.

Oneto, of Sonora, spent all of the $200 in his RAD card account to purchase toys from Little Roots that he then donated to the Sonora-area California Highway Patrol’s annual CHIPS for Kids Toy Drive that benefits local children in need at Christmas.

The toys that Oneto purchased will be given to CHIPS for Kids via a collection point at one of his favorite local businesses, Stogies Gold Country Lounge in Jamestown, which is trying to fill a 20foot box trailer with donations for the drive.

“I just thought this was a way I could donate even more,” said Oneto, who is a retired civil engineerin­g tech for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. “There are a lot of people on fixed incomes who want to donate, and this was an ideal vehicle for us to double our donation if you will.”

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