- Associated Press - Saturday, October 17, 2020

BLACKSBURG, Va. (AP) - Anew app is aiming to help those who may not be able to come to Blacksburg this fall to support the businesses they know and love.

Localyte - an app that allows people to buy gift cards to local businesses with the money going directly to the business - was created by a group of local software developers from the Roanoke and New River valleys in an effort to help local businesses mitigate the costs of losing revenue during the COVID-19 pandemic, particularly those hit hardest by Virginia Tech football games not being open to the public.

The impact is estimated to be $80 million of missing economic activity in Blacksburg and the surrounding area, according to app spokesman Kyle Thompson. He said he received those figures from the Montgomery County Chamber of Commerce, which Executive Director Sharon Scott said she based from a study the university previously conducted.

Many local restaurants have had to at least shut down temporarily if not close entirely since the pandemic started to hit the U.S. in March.

“We want alumni and people who come from out of the area to have the opportunity to help the businesses they know and love,” Thompson said. “That way when they can come back next year those places are still here.”

He said he and the Localyte team are hoping this will keep businesses owners who are having cash flow problems up and running, while allowing them to also pay their employees.

“I think it’s a wonderful idea and smart that he is trying to reach this particular market,” Scott said.

Thompson also noted that a feature on the app - that can be downloaded from the Apple App Store and soon the Google store for Android users - will soon have the ability to send electronic gift cards to people as well, like for parents with kids attending Virginia Tech.

And while he said it wasn’t necessarily the genesis of the idea, local residents not wanting to go out right now can also support their favorite local joints using the app.

Purchases are stored on the app and available to use through a simple QR code that restaurants or other businesses can easily scan and accommodate, he said.

The former Hokie who moved back to the area a decade after graduating said the goal is to get more than 100,000 users on the platform in the coming months.

Though the initial goal was to help Blacksburg, he said there could be opportunities to expand to other college towns or markets facing similar problems as Blacksburg’s businesses.

“We will see where it goes,” he said. “Right now the main focus is on helping Blacksburg and the surrounding areas. The lack of business also affects tax revenues for localities, which generate a sizeable amount of revenue from sales and food taxes.”

The app is free to download with a small service fee when making a purchase, Thompson said.

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