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Downtowns float programs to entice rafters, conventioneers

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CASHMERE — Summer experiments by two area downtowns to boost retail and restaurant traffic both get thumbs-up for next year, even though a few rough spots in the incentive programs need to be ironed out.

Cashmere’s “Come Ashore and Explore” program — aimed at raft-loads of river floaters who disembark at a downtown park — and Wenatchee’s downtown coupon book for visitors helped introduce thousands of new customers to businesses in each city’s commercial core, said promoters.

Every summer, visitors are delivered by raft right to our doorstep,” said Jill FitzSimmons, manager of the Cashmere Chamber of Commerce, which sponsored the “Come Ashore” promotion for about 22 downtown businesses. “The smart thing to do is encourage them to walk into town to eat, drink and shop.”

FitzSimmons said that, depending on river conditions and weather, upwards of 14 rafting companies on the Wenatchee River deliver more than 14,000 rafters to a landing area in the city’s Riverside Park. Peak rafting season is May through July, although a heavy snowpack can stretch that season by a couple of weeks.

With every river trip, rafters received a “Come Ashore” rubber bracelet good for specials and discounts at downtown businesses. Nearly 8,000 bracelets were distributed to rafting customers.

We’ll participate again next year, but definitely tweak our offering or discount,” said Melissa McClendon, owner of Milepost 111 Brewing Company, a riverside restaurant and craft-beer brewer that’s proved a favorite of rafters and mountain bikers. Milepost 111 offered some appetizers at half-price.

Some people abused it,” said McClendon, who noted tables of six people who ordered half-price food and nothing else. “But it’s a good program and this summer was a good test. Each business just needs to figure out what to offer, how big a discount and how long it’s valid.”

FitzSimmons agreed. “Deals varied from business to business and so did the success rate,” she said. “Now we need to sit and talk about what worked and what didn’t, and then we can refine it for next year.”

Downriver, the Wenatchee Downtown Association aimed its inaugural discount coupon campaign at visitors — mostly conventioneers — who might be looking for an escape from their hotel rooms for food, drink and shopping.

Thirty downtown businesses participated in the 2013 Coupon Book program. Some offered discounts, some offered free items with purchases and some just advertised their presence in the downtown core. About 2,000 of the coupon books were distributed through the front desks of area hotels and motels and at the downtown visitors center.

We think visitors were surprised by what they found here,” said WDA executive director Linda Haglund. “We heard over and over — ‘What? You have an Indian restaurant here? An old-style soda fountain?’ It (the coupon book) helped people discover us.”

The coupon campaign is just one more method to catch visitors’ attention, she said.

Whether you’re in Wenatchee or Cashmere or Timbuktu, you’re always looking for new ways to talk to customers,” said Haglund.

Today’s marketing goes in all directions — print, radio, billboards, Internet, smartphones and even coupons — so you’ve got to willing to try everything.”

Reach Mike Irwin at 509-665-1179 or . Read his blog Everyday Business. follow him on Twitter at @MikeIrwinWW.