Chinook Book, popular Portland coupon publisher, announces abrupt shutdown

Chinook Book, the popular Portland-based retail discount app often peddled as a fundraiser by schools and nonprofits across the Northwest, abruptly announced last week that it will shut down operations after more than 20 years.

“With much regret, we are writing to inform you that our Chinook Book business could not survive the multitude of business challenges stemming from two years of COVID,” the company wrote in an email to its customers.

The company added that it will be “ceasing operation” of the app on April 20.

Despite the announcement, as of Monday afternoon, Chinook Book’s website had no indication that the company was closing. Instead, it was still advertising offers and a free 30-day trial to sign up for the app. Many of the company’s social media pages, however, were no longer available.

Company officials did not respond to questions.

In the letter to subscribers, the company said current subscribers of Chinook Book have been offered a chance to sign up for a free one-year subscription to another coupon service called Passport Unlimited. It did not mention refunds or address whether customers would have access to coupons they had paid for after Wednesday.

The announcement surprised its customers and merchants across Portland, which include businesses that offered a rewards-based program through Chinook Book’s app.

Jess Tannenbaum, retail director at Grand Central Bakery, said the bakery found out about Chinook Book closing through customers. The bakery relies on the Chinook Book app’s rewards platform that acts as the mobile version of a loyalty punch card, in which customers can receive a free loaf of bread or free cup of coffee after 10 purchases.

“It’s unfortunate. I mean, it just doesn’t give businesses a lot of time to figure out a plan,” she said. “A lot of our customers are kind of wondering about what’s going to happen to all their punches that they’ve accumulated. And so we don’t really have any answers. We didn’t have time to make a plan.”

Tannenbaum said Grand Central Bakery has been partnering with Chinook Book to offer deals to customers even before she joined the company more than 14 years ago. She said the bakery used to offer customers a physical punch card but switched over to a mobile version of the program through Chinook Book during the pandemic.

“We only have our bread and coffee punch card program through Chinook Book, which is really popular, like our customers just love that program,” she said. “It’s the thing that people get excited about and it’s something that brings people to the cafe versus just buying our bread at the grocery store.”

Last year, the bakery gave away roughly 10,000 free loaves of bread to customers who redeemed their points through the punch card program, Tannenbaum said, citing 2021 statistics from Chinook Book.

Tannenbaum said the company pays Chinook Book annually as part of the partnership. She said the bakery already paid the coupon company last September to continue running its rewards program.

Chinook Book was created by Celilo Group Media, a company founded by Nik Blosser, whose family owns the Sokol Blosser winery in Yamhill County. Blosser resigned from his role as the company’s CEO in 2017 after he was tapped by Gov. Kate Brown to be her chief of staff. It’s unclear whether he retained any ownership of the company after his departure.

Chinook Book was originally published as a physical book, usually more than an inch thick, often sold as a fundraiser for school groups or nonprofits. The company rolled out a mobile app version in 2010.

Businesses and products had to meet standards for reducing environmental impact or for supporting the community in order to appear in the book. Grocery stores had to have a “substantial presence of certified organic products.” Coffee shops had to sell organic or fair-trade coffee.

“Chinook Book is founded on a simple belief: The businesses that give back should be the ones that thrive,” the company said in a 2017 report posted on its website. “We believe the primary way Chinook Book can benefit the communities we serve is to make it easier for people to steer more of their spending toward good businesses — the ones that take care of the environment and give back to the community.”

According to its website, Chinook Book reached over 300,000 consumers per year and directed more $42 million of sales to its business partners. The company operated in Oregon, Washington, California, Massachusetts, Colorado and Minnesota.

–Kristine de Leon, [email protected], @deleonkrist