Loanbright owner gives gift that keeps giving

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Employees receive $100 each, are told to spend the money downtown

By Deb Hurley Brobst

Russell Straub has a big heart.

His Christmas gift to his 37 employees at Loanbright.com on Meadow Drive not only made the season bright for them, but also for downtown Evergreen businesses.

Straub gave his employees each $100 with orders that the money must be spent at downtown stores. If they spent all the money, he would give them another $100. Add to that lunch at One World Café.

“This really isn’t about me,” Straub said, “but I wanted to do something fun, something memorable.”

All totaled, he figures he spent about $7,800.

His wife, Cherie, triggered the idea. Their daughter, who attends Montessori School of Evergreen, did an internship in downtown’s Sweetwater Boutique. Cherie suggested that he give his employees gift certificates to the women’s clothing store for Christmas. After some thought, he decided that his employees would be happier — and so would downtown businesses — if he gave them cash and had them spend it.

He said it was fun surprising his employees with the gift. He called a company-wide meeting at 11 a.m. and sprung the plan on them. He said they had until lunch to spend it, and they should bring the items to the restaurant to share what they purchased.

He said it also was fun to walk down Main Street and peek into the shops to see the employees spending the money. The stores were all pretty empty at noon on that Tuesday, so the owners also seemed pretty pleased, he said.

“He had people buying local and keeping things local,” said Trish Wales, executive director of the Evergreen Downtown Business Association. “I think that’s awesome. I think it’s a great idea, and it benefited all of downtown Evergreen.”

Mikki Magnolo, owner of the Green Merchant, said she didn’t know at first why a bunch of people were coming into her shop with money to spend and a certain amount of time to spend it. She said it was fun to watch them spend money without having to be concerned about watching every penny.

 “I thought, ‘That’s really so cool,’ ” Magnolo said, “and how generous that was. It was just about supporting community. There were a number of us (store owners) who really got the goodwill of that. I think that it was really awesome. It made our day.”

The employees were pleased, too.

Sarah Slaton, who has worked at Loanbright.com for 11 years, was thrilled to buy a pair of moccasins she had had her eye on at Evergreen Crafters, some clothes at Evergreen Resort Apparel Outlet, and fudge and hand warmers at Seasonally Yours.

“He is one of the most generous people I know,” Slaton said of Straub. “Being from up here and a business owner, he knows the importance of helping community. He knows it’s important to make a difference.”

Steve Szentivanyi thought the gift was wonderful, and he says he made a beeline for Evergreen Gallery to buy a pair of earrings for his wife. He said it was neat to see a half-dozen co-workers walking through the Evergreen Gallery door, too.

“It’s the greatest thing (Straub) could have done,” Szentivanyi said. “I really appreciate it.”