It can be relatively easy to make money in a booming economy. But when the tide turns, business people must become more creative. Tom Downer, owner of Jack's Country Store, has done just that. Downer has created his own fuel rewards program. Amanda Frink's front-page article describes the details.

It took Downer about two years to put this program together. In essence, it allows Jack's customers to have the kind of benefit that Safeway or Fred Meyer, for instance, give their customers - except more so. The Jack's program is especially eye-catching because the store's customers on the Long Beach Peninsula are otherwise, in many cases, driving across the Columbia River to buy gasoline. In other words, the market has given Downer an opening.

Our story describes the complexity of Downer's deals with grocery product manufacturers that were the nut of creating the fuel rewards program. Basically, dollars that would have been budgeted by suppliers in past years to help local stores defray the cost of advertising are instead going to be put back into consumers' pockets.

If legal red tape can be untangled, this idea may in effect allow peninsula merchants to band together and offer customers in all their stores a huge incentive to shop locally - a kind of local currency that rewards shopping at home by dropping the cost of gasoline to a theoretical low of 10 cents a gallon.

When a business person makes something work, it appears obvious. Others are tempted to say, "I could have done that." But, of course, they didn't do it. And that is the essence of why Downer's accomplishment merits praise.

It may also merit close observation by homegrown Clatsop County merchants contemplating the possible arrival of Wal-Mart.

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