SITKA - Matt Donohoe can testify to the benefits of eating a traditional New Year's Day good luck dish of black-eyed peas and rice.
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"I guess it really does bring good luck," he said Tuesday.
Donohoe is among the more than 400 Sitkans who will get their money back for the purchases they made during the past month at Goldsmith Gallery and Sitka Jewelers.
"If it rains, it's free," was the offer to customers at the downtown stores, owned by Chris Fondell. Specifically, if rainfall were to exceed one-half inch between noon and midnight on New Year's Eve, everyone who made purchases at Fondell's shops between Thanksgiving and Christmas Day would get 100 percent refunds.
As it turned out, New Year's Eve in Sitka was a wet, blustery day, with winds to 40 mph, sleet and more than an inch of rain. Rainfall in the critical 12-hour period on New Year's Eve was officially measured at .79 inches, Fondell said.
Fondell said the payout to his customers will be $156,000, and he has advised those eligible that their refunds will be made before Valentine's Day.
Fondell has been offering the deal every year except one since 1995, and this is the first time for a payout.
As a sales promotion, the "If it Rains, It's Free" concept has been around long enough that merchants can buy insurance to cover the cost of a payout, he said.
"This year it paid off," said a thrilled Fondell.
Customers have been flooding the store with calls and visits, he said. Lawrence Poitra, manager of Sitka Jewelers, said some customers were waiting to greet him when he arrived to open the store this morning to find out if Sunday's rainfall put them in the winner's bracket.
"A lot of clients came in, real excited," he said.
Matt Donohoe said he made his purchase at Goldsmith Gallery shortly before closing time on Christmas Eve.
"I just wanted something nice, but small," Donohoe told the Sentinel on Tuesday. "They said they had a really busy day and the choices were thin, but I found something I liked."
He picked out a pair of diamond earrings for his wife, Ceri Malein.
Donohoe said the salesperson mentioned the New Year's rain deal, but he didn't think much about it. On New Year's Day, he went to a neighbors' house on Galankin Island for black-eyed peas and rice meal, which is supposed to bring good luck in the new year.
It's already worked, he said.
Another customer, Al Stevens, said he already was highly motivated when he made his purchase at Goldsmith Gallery: He wanted a special present for his wife to mark their 25th anniversary. When Fondell offered a discount to ex-military at the same time as the city's post-Thanksgiving sales tax holiday, he decided the time was right.
"I wasn't even thinking about rain. That was the last thing on my mind," Stevens said Tuesday. He purchased a one-carat diamond ring with stones on either side, as a "past, present and future" ring.
He didn't think about the chance of getting his money back until he heard the checkout clerks at Lakeside Grocery talking about Fondell's offer on New Year's Eve, when it was evident that the day was a wet one. Stevens said one of his colleagues at the fire hall, Dave Lewis, kept him posted on rainfall throughout the day.
"We figured it would never make it," Stevens said. In fact, even after he heard that the rainfall in the 12 hours before midnight was close to one inch, he believed he was out of the money. He had thought that the critical measure was one inch, not half that amount.
"This is just a bonus," he said Tuesday. He plans to use the windfall for improvements to the family home.
Another regular customer, Clarice Bayne, said she and her husband decided this was the year to replace her wedding ring for Christmas, and didn't think about getting anything back on the purchase.
"I really didn't give it a lot of thought," she said. But on New Year's Eve she listened to the rain, and started to wonder if this would be the year.
"I thought it was too good to be true," Bayne said. "I was thrilled to find out it actually worked. ... You don't usually get money back for your Christmas presents."