Staff File Photo by Matt Hamilton / Carolina Molloy, co-owner of Adventure Sport Innovation in downtown Chattanooga, sanitizes a scooter in a photo last December.

Aimed at helping jump-start downtown Chattanooga's economy, a new community e-gift card targeted for use at more than 50 central city businesses so far is launching on Tuesday.

With the coronavirus ebbing and vaccination rates rising, the Chattanooga Express Card will inject dollars into downtown restaurants, shops and attractions still recovering from the pandemic, according to the River City Co.

"Our goal is to have over 100 businesses participating in the program by the end of June," said Emily Mack, the nonprofit downtown redevelopment group's president and chief executive.

When people go online at, they can select how much money to put onto the card, which is then downloaded by text or email.

At a participating merchant, the gift card shows up on a patron's smartphone.

"It looks like a credit card," said Dawn Hjelseth, River City's vice president of marketing and communication.

Also, while supplies last, when an individual purchases a $100 card, they will receive $50 in bonus dollars, according to River City. Purchase a $75 card and receive $25 in bonus dollars, or purchase a $50 card and receive $10 in bonus dollars.

"The program is structured so that there is no cost to participating businesses, and people who buy Chattanooga Express gift cards get bonus dollars," said Mack. "That gives the program a multiplier effect where both customers and businesses benefit and 100% of the funds from gift card purchases go back into our local economy."

Mallory Sturdivant, manager of the Ben & Jerry's store downtown, said the e-gift card effort is part of helping the city recover from the impact of the virus.

"It will definitely help drive business," said the manager.

Downtown was hit hard early on in the pandemic with the lockdown last year and then as many central city businesses kept workers home. Last week, major employers unveiled plans to bring some workers back in numbers this summer.

Hjelseth said she's hopeful the e-gift card effort will continue into next year.

"It's not a short-term card," she said, adding that the bonus money has a life of just 90 days. "We want people spending money at businesses."

EPB and the Benwood Foundation are program sponsors, supporting the bonus dollars and covering e-delivery fees that are typically charged for such cards, Hjelseth said.

"As part of our mission to serve the community, EPB is focused on helping local people and businesses recover from the COVID-19 crisis," said David Wade, EPB president and CEO.

Carolina Eiris Malloy, owner of Adventure Sports Innovation downtown, said she hopes the initiative "will result in incremental spending that stays in Chattanooga."

According to River City, similar programs have been launched in more than 260 cities nationwide, including last year in Nashville. Studies show that local independent retailers recirculate 47% of their revenue back into a community, compared to only 14% of national chains, River City said.

Contact Mike Pare at Follow him on Twitter @MikePareTFP.