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Hamilton businesses kept afloat during COVID-19 pandemic by city's gift cards program

The Pinball Garage kept afloat by Hamilton gift card program.png
Posted at 11:14 PM, Feb 03, 2021
and last updated 2021-02-04 16:49:03-05

HAMILTON, Ohio — With several bars and restaurants as well as entertainment venues falling on hard times during the coronavirus pandemic, one Hamilton location isn’t just surviving – it’s thriving.

“If they all work together, the tide rises all ships,” Greater Hamilton Chamber of Commerce president Dan Bates said. “That doesn’t happen very many paces.”

In the midst of the pandemic, and already with expansion on his mind, Pinball Garage owner Brad Baker said a lifeline provided by the city of Hamilton is giving him renewed hope from going full tilt.

“Any place can sell beer and liquor,” he said. “We invested a whole lot of money in these machines.”

Thirty-seven of them, to be exact.

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“They’re excited. They smile. They have no idea what they’re going,” Baker said of customers who visit the Pinball Garage. “It’s just so fun to watch.”

Originally slated to open in April 2020, Pinball Garage's debut was stalled due to the pandemic. They finally opened in June, and Baker said every day has been its own challenge.

“There would be times where you’re laying down at night and based on what the next day’s announcement would be is if you’d even be open,” he said.

His focus, not on high scores, but on keeping his family and his business up and running.

“My son is the manager here,” Baker said. “If we aren’t open, then him, my daughter-in-law and granddaughter aren’t making a living. That’s really important.”

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The Greater Hamilton Chamber of Commerce provided much-needed business to struggling businesses like The Pinball Garage.

“We shifted gears completely,” Bates said. “Our entire focus and priority became what we needed to do to ensure the survival of our businesses.”

In 2020, the City of Hamilton bought $300,000 in gift cards and that effort is still helping.

“It not only put money in the hands of businesses when they needed them, when people turn in those gift certificates, it’s replenishing a fund,” Baker said. “Using that fund to give zero interest loans to small business in Hamilton in perpetuity. We’ve already given one of those loans. It’s the gift that just keeps giving.”

For local business owners like Baker, the program has been a lifeline.

“If we can pay the bills, the employees get a paycheck, that’s all that matters right now,” he said. “We can show Hamilton, Cincinnati, Greater Cincinnati who we really are when this is all over.”

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A food truck could come next month and on tap after that: more seating and more pinball.

People interested in purchasing one of the gift certificates can do so here.