The easiest contest to win last year probably was the first Shop Local Contest held by the Cape May County Chamber of Commerce.

With few people aware of the contest and even fewer willing to spend precious holiday-season time on something new and untested, only 17 entries were received for prizes in three categories ranging from overnight stays in Avalon and Cape May to $100 Visa gift cards.

This year, the chamber is adding two more ways to win, including a category for shopping online, said Vicki Clark, chamber president.

“We want to remind people, especially our summer visitors, that most of our Cape May County stores do offer online sales,” said Clark, of Lower Township. “They may not be aware that they can shop online at many businesses even though the seasonal store is closed.”

The five ways to win in this year’s Shop Local Contest include:

- Pick three county stores and spend $50 in each of them;

- shop in the most Cape May County stores;

- shop in the most Cape May County municipalities;

- shop online at the most county-based stores;

- and a “just because you shopped” bonus category with a drawing from among all of the entries in the other categories.

The contest is a new feature of the chamber’s decade-long campaign to encourage residents to support the businesses that are critical to local communities.

“The purpose is to encourage people to remember it is the local business community that supports other things in the county year-round,” she said. “When it comes time to do holiday shopping, it does a disservice to them to drive out of the area to go shopping.”

Besides the obvious ways in which businesses support communities such as providing jobs and paying taxes, Clark said, they also provide crucial funding and help for community organizations and events such as youth sports, charities and recitals.

“Hurricane Sandy makes shopping local even more important this year,” she said. “We do have businesses that sustained storm damage and expect to reopen in time for holiday shopping.”

The storm figures in a popular new item at one of the businesses supporting the Shop Local Contest.

The Flying Fish Studio, in West Cape May, has made long- and short-sleeved T-shirts with a hurricane symbol and the words “I survived Sandy … Not so Dandy.”

Owner Sue Lotozo, 53, of West Cape May, said she thinks the contest is a great idea and is donating a $50 gift certificate to include in the prize packages.

Flying Fish Studio screen prints clothing, wall art and totes, many of them made from organic or recycled fibers, Lotozo said.

What she calls “interesting clothing for regular people” often bears hand-drawn images of King Neptune, horseshoe crabs, turtles, mermaids or fish — or especially local icons such as the Voodoo Tree at nearby Higbee Beach.

“We have a series of shirts that feature all of the local beaches in Cape May,” Lotozo said. “We still have a fabulous collection of lima bean products,” recalling the days when so many of the legumes were grown in West Cape May that it had an annual Lima Bean Festival.

Clark said other businesses already signed up to participate in and contribute to the contest include Morey’s Piers in Wildwood, Rio Station in Middle Township, Garden Greenhouse and Nursery in Dennis Township, 1st Bank of Sea Isle City, Main Street Ocean City, Woodland Village in Dennis Township and the Mad Batter Restaurant in Cape May.

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