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Olivia, Minn., businesses continue their 20-year tradition of saying thanks to local shoppers

Deb Eliason, left, was surprised Friday by Nancy Standfuss as she presented her with $5 Corn Capital Cash certificates. It's part of a 20-year tradition by Olivia businesses to say thanks to local shoppers. Standfuss is the director of the Olivia Chamber of Commerce. Tribune photo by Tom Cherveny

For 20 years now, businesses in Olivia have been offering holiday shoppers something they can't find in any big box store or at a major shopping center. Their gratitude. "My lucky day,'' said Mildred Zaske, laughing, as Nancy Standfuss surprised her while shopping Friday at the ALCO store in Olivia. Standfuss handed Zaske a $5 certificate for Olivia Corn Capital Cash, which can be redeemed at any of more than 50 participating Olivia businesses.

"I don't really need this,'' said Zaske, still smiling.

As director of the Olivia Chamber of Commerce, Standfuss has the annual holiday task of handing out hundreds of dollars' worth of Corn Capital Cash to surprised shoppers as a way of saying thanks.

Called "the Spirit of Christmas,'' the practice was started as a way to tell shoppers their decision to buy locally is appreciated, said Standfuss. Its purpose remains the same today. And always, it's a surprise. The Chamber director walks into a store with a hand full of certificates and surprises each shopper she meets until her supply is gone.

"It has a special feel to it,'' said Standfuss. "It's a surprise and it has a random act of kindness feel to it.''

It also keeps the local money circulating in town.

"Where you spend your money really matters,'' said Standfuss. Local businesses share in the local tax burden for everything from police and fire protection to education. They are also the first to contribute when asked to support the many volunteer activities that place in a community, she noted.

She also reminds people to think about what their community would be like absent the stores they rely on through the year.

Standfuss has been serving as Chamber director for five years, and before that managed a local convenience store. She knows well the challenges that small-town retailers face. Big box stores, malls, and online competition all take a bite.

Most small-town retailers know they cannot offer everything that shoppers will find in larger retail areas. They just want a shot at your business, said Standfuss.

Customers will find that local stores can offer comparable prices and selections on many of the goods they seek, said Standfuss.

It's about more than finding stuff, according to Standfuss. There is a relationship between customers and store owners in small communities.

When they shop locally, customers are known by their name. "It's huge,'' said Standfuss. "It's the most important words of all,'' she said.

Add to that the words "thank you,'' which Standfuss heard every time she handed over the Corn Capital Cash to her surprised recipients.

Tom Cherveny

Tom Cherveny is a regional and outdoor reporter with the West Central Tribune in Willmar, MN.

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