Michelle Brooks outside bakery

Michelle Brooks, the owner of Michelle’s Scrumptious Bakery in Juniata, is pictured outside the business May 13. The bakery is one of 70 sites selected for the 2021 Nebraska Passport program.

JUNIATA — Michelle’s Scrumptious Bakery has seen a huge increase in traffic during the last two months as the business has become one of three Tribland stops for statewide tourism with the 2021 Nebraska Passport program.

Michelle Brooks, owner of the business in downtown Juniata, started seeing a boost in business in the month before the passport program officially started in May. She estimates she saw an additional 200 people within the first month of the announcement.

“It started pretty heavy right away,” she said.

The Nebraska Passport program encourages Nebraskans and tourists to travel throughout the state collecting stamps to earn prizes, while also supporting Nebraska’s tourism destinations and local businesses.

The program began May 1 and continues through Sept. 30. It features 70 locations in 10 categories including Aroma Therapy, Branching Out, Childish Things, Growth Opportunities, Grub & Cuisine, Now Hear This, Shoptimum Values, Parking Spots, Time Travel and Visual Treats. A full list may be found at NebraskaPassport.com.

Participants in the program travel to the Passport stops at their own pace, inside the hours of operation. Upon arrival, participants can receive either a physical stamp in their passport booklet (available from all participating locations) or a digital stamp on their online passport via a free mobile app available at “NE Passport 2021” in either the Apple App Store or Google Play. Physical and digital stamps eventually are submitted to the Nebraska Passport program for prizes.

Despite the pandemic, a record-breaking 1,185 program participants made it to every stop in 2020.

The program is in its 12th year. State statistics show that in 2019, Nebraska Passport generated nearly $24 million in travel spending and $1.9 million in state and local tax revenue by enticing more than 50,000 people to participate.

Tribland businesses and visitor attractions selected for this year’s program include Sugar Shack Home Decor in Edgar, Michelle’s Scrumptious Bakery in Juniata and the National Willa Cather Center in Red Cloud.

There’s no charge to participate in the program, and no purchase is necessary to obtain a stamp from any Nebraska Passport stop that is visited.

Even without a requirement, Brooks said, she thinks everyone who has stopped by her bakery has made some sort of purchase. She believes that likely was fueled by the scents emanating from the freshly baked goods.

“We like to fully torture people with the good smells when they walk in,” she said.

Brooks learned about the program when customers told her about it and suggested she join. She applied for 2020 but missed the cutoff deadline.

Passport stops are selected through an application process. Businesses can apply to be included in the program every two years.

“It’s a really cool program,” she said. “It really helps out a lot of small businesses in the state.”

For Brooks, it’s a chance to show off her bakery to the rest of the state and increase business.

The bakery specializes in decorated cakes for any occasion. The storefront in downtown Juniata has been open for five years, but Brooks operated the business out of her home for years before renovating the current building for use.

In addition to various desserts, the business also sells candles and jams.

The business has two separate kitchen areas, one of which is used to prepare exclusively gluten-free products. Brooks said she has only heard of one other gluten-free kitchen in the state. She also said they are able to bake around any food allergy or other dietary restrictions.

“I didn’t realize how many people needed that,” she said.