Portland is offering $50 digital gift cards to support downtown businesses and Portland Mercado vendors

The City of Portland is giving away $500,000 in digital gift cards in an effort to boost businesses in downtown Portland and a Southeast Portland market.

The city is partnering with Kuto, a Portland-based payment processing startup, to distribute the $50 digital gift cards. But to get gift cards, you will have to go through a few steps.

First, you will need to download Kuto’s free app from google play or the Apple Store and add your bank account information to get started. Gift cards are only issued during certain events in various business districts. The next downtown opportunity is Wednesday, May 11, at Columbia Square, 111 SW Columbia, from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. People at this location can claim a gift card to spend at 100 participating retailers and restaurants.

City officials say the goal is to foster a stronger recovery for small businesses in the region that have been hit hard due to a lack of office workers and tourism downtown. The initiative was organized by the city, Worksystems, Prosper Portland, Business for a Better Portland, Portland State University, Bricks Need Mortar, Downtown Clean and Safe and Kuto. The money comes from local and federal COVID-19 relief programs, including funds approved by the Portland City Council during last month’s spring budget adjustment.

The program launched Wednesday at Pioneer Courthouse Square, but at least 4,000 downtown gift cards are still available on a first-come, first-served basis, according to Kiyo Kubo, CEO and co-founder of Kuto.

Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler said the presence of downtown workers is “essential to revitalizing the city” and that “those dollars and customer relationships will make a difference to the stores and restaurants that have been the hardest hit during the pandemic.”

While the first round of the program will offer $50 gift cards to 5,000 people who live or work in downtown Portland, a second effort will launch Saturday at the Portland Mercado as part of the Mayo Makers Event. Kuto app users can claim $50 in digital gift cards to spend at retailers and restaurants in the Mercado and Foster-Powell neighborhoods.

Those claiming the $50 credits have two weeks to use the money before it expires, Kubo said. Unused funds will be returned to the program for distribution at future events.

The Mercado is a Latin American public market developed by the non-profit organization Hacienda Community Development Corp., on city-owned property and with financial support from the city. It opened in 2015.

In total, the city aims to distribute 10,000 Kuto gift cards. Funds left over from the Downtown and Portland Mercado events will be used in similar efforts to support other Portland business districts, city officials said.

“I think it’s a really wonderful program because the city is giving citizens $500,000 and the only way they can spend is on local businesses,” Kubo said. “So all of this money is going directly to these companies as $500,000 in revenue.”

— Kristine de Leon, [email protected], 503-221-8506

Michael N. Clark