Bernal Heights neighborhood has own debit card


The Summer Solstice Stroll on Cortland Avenue in Bernal Heights is a celebration of summer and a chance for neighbors to spend a little money. Beginning Tuesday night, business owners and shoppers are trying something new. It's called "Bernal Bucks," a pre-paid debit card that customers can use at neighborhood stores that take part in the program. Shoppers get five percent back on every purchase. The money they build up can then be used to buy things at any of the shops and restaurants in the Bernal Bucks program.

"We like our neighborhood and we're the kind of people who do a lot of shopping in the neighborhood and it seems like a good idea," said Bernal Heights resident Keira Travis.

The Bernal Business Alliance, which came up with the idea, wants to lure shoppers away from the big chain stores.

"So we're flexing our neighborhood muscle that we have, our economic muscle, and try to create incentives to keep more of our money in our neighborhood," said Arno Hesse from the Bernal Business Alliance.

The debit card is issued by the Mission SF credit union. Customers can sign up and put money in their account online. Organizers say shoppers and stores pay no fee. There are about 400 businesses in Bernal Heights. So far about 16 merchants have signed up, including Vega Freeman who runs a restaurant on Cortland Avenue.

"We all think and assume and hope that we are mostly supported by our neighbors and residents of Bernal, but with the Bernal Bucks program, we can hopefully track it a little more," said Freeman.

The program is just getting started. Tuesday night a handful of people signed up and organizers hope to eventually get 2,000 shoppers on board.

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