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Columbus Passport Program extended through August
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Columbus Passport Program extended through August

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Those wanting to continue getting their Columbus Passports stamped will still be able to as the deadline for turning them in has been extended to the end of August.

Katy McNeil, director of the Columbus Area Convention and Visitors Bureau, said the Columbus Passport Program started Aug. 1 as Columbus Days was canceled due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

"The Passport Program started as a way to spur economic impact in the way of Columbus Days not happening, as a way to get them involved and checking out some businesses they might not know about or haven’t been to in a while,” McNeil said. “There has been a ton of them that were handed out in the last week so we just wanted to make sure people had an adequate amount of time to visit the businesses, check out to see what they have to offer.”

McNeil noted that an estimated 1,400 passports have been handed out so far in Columbus and across Platte County.

“Take US 30 Speedway, for example,” she said. “Thursdays, on race days, are the only days that people can go out. Allowing two opportunities for that chance to happen, it gives people more time.”

McNeil said it’s also a good way for residents to find out what’s going on in the community, such as the Columbus Public Library.

“The library… has a project coming up that will be on the ballot soon in November,” McNeil said. “It can be an educational opportunity for that.”

Many businesses have also taken advantage of being forced to close due to COVID-19 by renovating, expanding and/or redecorating

A total of 25 businesses are participating in the program; visitors receive a stamp at each location they visit with no purchase necessary to receive the stamp.

Once completed, the passports can be returned at the CVB office inside the Columbus Area Chamber of Commerce.

Those who return their completed passports will be entered into a drawing to win Columbus Bucks, which will be held via Facebook Live on Sept. 1. The passports are due by Aug. 31.

“There are five different prize levels for Columbus Bucks,” McNeil said. “First prize is $125, second is $100, third is $50, fourth prize is $25 and fifth is $10. Just for participating, they’ll get a koozie.”

S.T.A.R. Escape Rooms, 2705 13th St. in Columbus, is one of the participating businesses.

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“The S.T.A.R. stands for Scenario-Themed Adventure Rooms,” explained Joanne Mueller, who owns the business with her husband, Randy. “It’s where you’re locked into a room for an hour and you go through puzzles and the clues and try to figure out how to get out.”

Having been closed for three months due to the coronavirus pandemic, Mueller said they have finally started getting more customers in and booking more rooms.

Being involved in the Columbus Passport Program has helped, as well.

“We’ve been giving out $5 off per person chips when they come out to get their passports stamped and we’ve had several come back already and book a room,” Mueller said, adding that they’ve also been handing out several passports and have recently asked for additional copies.

She said that participating in an escape room is fun for office parties, a girls’ night out or even to spend time as a family.

“We’d like people to come out because they’ve been cooped up in their homes for so long,” Mueller said. “It’s an adventure, it’s exciting, it’s thrilling to try to get out.”

Joe Niedbalski, manager partner of the Runza in Columbus, noted that while it’s hard for his business to gauge how many customers come in because of the Passport Program, he has seen residents patronize the establishment during lunchtime holding the passport.

“It’s been going well, I guess,” Niedbalski said. “I’ve seen quite a few people come in to get their passports marked off.”

Others participating in the program are Bo's West Sports Bar/Grill, Tapestries Vintage, Cork & Barrel, Transcendence Salon & Med Spa, Office Net, US 30 Speedway, Taco Johns, CK Grill & Bar, Glur's Tavern, Bistro on the Loup, Columbus Area Visitors Bureau, ZeeKey's Pork in a Boat, The Friedhof Room, Barbara Jean's, Columbus Public Library, Vintage Pine, Boulevard Lanes, Husker Bar, Top Stitch Upholstery, The Oasis, Market 23 and Fabulous Forever.

McNeil added that CVB will be doing the Columbus Passport Program next year, as well.

“We’ll look at doing it for a full month to begin with instead of having to extend it halfway through," McNeil said. “Nobody could have prepared for COVID; the passport was thought out, created, developed, printed and delivered to businesses in about a week-and-a-half. Next year we might put down hours and days of operation (of the businesses).”

According to McNeil, she’s discovered that word has just now started to spread about the program. She said she hopes to get back 1,000 passports for the drawing.

“It’s to promote awareness and it’s something to do, something for people to take advantage of,” McNeil said.

Hannah Schrodt is the news editor of The Columbus Telegram. Reach her via email at hannah.schrodt@lee.net.

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