TRAVERSE CITY — That hard-to-shop-for person isn't so difficult when giving them a whole city.

Downtown Traverse City Gift Certificates keep growing in popularity, setting annual records for well over a decade.

A staggering $683,000 of the Downtown Traverse city Association gift certificates were sold in 2018. That's more than $44 for each of the city's residents.

And it all comes in neat little increments of $5, $10, $20 and $25.

The program is one of the most popular in the state, certainly per capita. The word in italics may not be needed.

"I would say that it's the most successful downtown gift certificate program in the state," said Colleen Paveglio, marketing and deputy director of the Downtown Development Authority, which manages the DTCA. "I don't know that for sure, but just from discussing it at other downtown association meetings and the phone calls that we get."

Paveglio said that when she started working for the DDA in 2004, the organization sold $40,000 in gift certificates. DTCA gift certificates topped the $100,000 in 2006, broke $200,000 in 2010 and hit the half-million mark for the first time in 2015.

"We talk in advertising about something being the perfect gift," Paveglio said. "People come in and say that it's literally the perfect gift. If you have someone difficult to buy for, the user gets to make the final decision."

The gift certificates are redeemable at more than 200 businesses. Paveglio said the certificates "diversity of use" helps drive it to record numbers. More than 60 of those businesses are restaurants.

Paveglio said dining is probably the most popular place for redemption.

"We see a decent amount," said Jeff Libman, general manager of Amical. "I'm not going to say 50 percent of our currency are gift certificates, but we see a lot. We probably see at least one a day. Regardless of increment, we see a least one of these a day. I guess maybe now that I think of it, it is a lot."

"We probably redeem $150-300 a week," said Red Ginger owner Pam Marsh. "We certainly see it more in January because a lot of people receive them as Christmas gifts."

Marsh is right on both accounts.

Of the $683,000 gift certificates sold in 2018, the DTCA reported about 48 percent of those ($325,000) were sold in December. The DTCA reports that June (13 percent) and May (11 percent) are the other big sales months, often as end-of-the-year thank-yous for coaches and teachers.

The highest amount of redemptions was $90,000 in January of 2018.

"When January is a slow time of the year, that really gives it a boost," Paveglio said.

Blane Casciano, general manager of Casciano Traverse City — Burger King, has purchased gift certificates for the holidays for his employees and plans to continue the practice because "they're great gifts."

"We feel that the downtown gift certificates are a great way for people to explore our town, from our extraordinary restaurants to our unique shops," he said.

Even though there isn't a Burger King restaurant in downtown — the chain's Front Street location is blocks outside the city limits — the gesture is welcomed.

"I think our employees would agree with my earlier statements — they enjoy going out to the restaurants and buying Christmas gifts down there," he said.

Libman and Marsh both reported the certificates are redeemed not just in the restaurant itself, but are used in the bar area as well as for take-out and even desserts to go.

"People use them for everything, which is nice," Libman said.

"It's pretty evenly split among the dining room and the bar area," Marsh said.

Hagerty, which was one of the top purchasers of downtown gift certificates this year, also likes giving them out to its employees.

"It's personal, but it's broad enough so people can really choose what they want because there are a lot of places in the community and downtown," said Amy Johnson, vice president of communications at Hagerty.

"It's the convenience and one-stop shopping," added Marsh, who has given the certificates to her own employees at Red Ginger as recently as 2017. "We have such a great downtown and they're redeemable about everywhere."

The DTCA covers the cost of the gift certificate program. Paveglio said the $30,000 annual outlay covers printing and bank fees.

In addition to Hagerty and Burger King, other top purchasers of downtown gift certificates in 2018 included Munson Medical Center, the Record-Eagle, Grand Traverse Pathology, Century 21, Tom's Food Market, Cherry Republic, FIM, Superior Physical Therapy and Coldwell Banker.

Johnson reported that Hagerty purchases the gift certificates in three different formats.

She said department managers purchase the certificates for employees with a corporate credit card and also buy them, often as Christmas gifts, from their own personal funds. Johnson said Hagerty has an online point-reward system called Overdrive and gift certificates are one of the possible redemptions.

"Employees self select to get the certificate over everything else," Johnson said. "It's safe to say that employees think it's a benefit and it's a great gift. They love it."

Johnson said Hagerty spent about$11,000 in the final six months of 2018 on gift certificates purchased through the company, More than 10 percent of that figure came from Overdrive.

Johnson added the DTCA certificates tie back into Hagerty's overall philosophy.

"It's community tied, which are employees are super enthusiastic about supporting our local community," she said.

"It's our shop-local program," Paveglio added.

DTCA gift certificate sales

2005 $90,000

2006 $125,000

2007 $135,000

2008 $184,000

2009 $192,000

2010 $240,000

2011 $318,000

2012 $400,000

2013 $450,000

2014 $463,000

2015 $538,000

2016 $566,000

2017 $623,000

2018 $683,000

Information provided by Downtown Traverse City Association

Business writer