These days we don’t wear hats as frequently as previous generations did, but the phrase “hats off” still signifies a measure of respect and appreciation. In that spirit, I hope everyone would join in tipping our caps to all of our local businesses for everything they have done and continue to do during this difficult time in dealing with the coronavirus pandemic. Certainly thanks are due to all the first responders and those on the front lines everyday who have led efforts to combat this health crisis, heroically risking their own safety in many instances to help others. But it’s also important to thank all of our local business owners and their employees for everything they have done to keep our economy moving forward, and their businesses safe for employees and customers.

Running a business, even in “normal” times, is challenging While owning your own business is a timeless version of the American dream, it brings with it long hours, constant hurdles to overcome, and heightened personal financial risks in an ever-changing environment. Business ownership is the engine that drives our economic progress, employs our residents, and provides earned income that helps fund governmental services. For local businesses, just think of all the hats they wear everyday in managing production, sales, service, inventory, employees, payroll, suppliers, and scores of other responsibilities, depending on the business. It’s not easy.

Now think about what they’ve had to deal with since March. With the onset of the coronavirus, our local businesses were immediately impacted as we were all compelled to socially distance and isolate in hopes of slowing the curve of infections. Almost overnight, revenue for many businesses dried up, and their entire operations were thrown into chaos with the immediate need to change their practices dramatically. Many businesses have been forced to close for months. Business owners and managers needed to scramble to pay bills, work with their lenders to make payroll, and determine how they were going to move forward in this unprecedented time of uncertainty.

How did our local businesses respond to this unexpected disruption? Fantastically. Perhaps the most impressive aspect has been how businesses have adjusted to all of the demands and governmental mandates regarding how they can safely operate. It’s a huge task to change processes, revise job performance criteria, and train and monitor employees on new procedures. All of that was accomplished in a matter of weeks, not months, in an ever-shifting regulatory environment amidst the constant need to manage anxious customers and residents. So not only did businesses have the everyday difficult job of running their business, they had to rethink, retool, and revise their go-to-market strategies and how they execute — on the fly — in the middle of a pandemic, based on constantly evolving guidelines and mandates, in addition to everything else they were dealing with no doubt on a personal and professional level. They had to be creative in coming up with new ways to keep their business going, and they had to make personal and financial sacrifices to fund the required investments to operate safely. And they have risen to the challenge and done all this and more. So the next time you visit a local business, please take a moment to “walk in their shoes” and think about what they have gone through recently to be in a position to serve you and other customers, and thank them for their efforts.

It’s human nature during this health crisis to focus on ways to keep yourself healthy; social distancing, avoiding risky situations, etc. It’s important that we are all “selfish” in this regard, since keeping ourselves healthy is critical in minimizing the spread of the disease to others. But think for a moment about all the business owners and employees out there working hard every day — not only do they deserve our appreciation for what they have accomplished, they also deserve our respect for their health and safety too. For customer-facing businesses especially, they are exposed every day to different people in conducting their livelihoods; to keep their business going, they don’t really have the choice to isolate from their customers.

Recently our state officials have required mask-wearing in all public venues. From the Chamber’s perspective, isn’t that the absolute least we can do to show our respect and appreciation for all of our local business’s above-and-beyond efforts and their willingness to do what’s required of them, by wearing a mask to try to help keep them and all of us safer? We hope we can soon return to business as usual, but until then, it’s not only a good health practice, it’s just good business to make customers as confident as possible by adhering to the established safety protocols.

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