Gorham Business Exchange President Ethan Johnson and former Executive Director Suzanne Phillips are pictured Monday at Junction Bowl on Railroad Avenue. Robert Lowell / American Journal

Gorham Business Exchange, a non-profit that promotes local businesses, has cut its paid executive director position and eliminated membership fees as a result of the pandemic.

“COVID-19 really leveled us as an organization from the financial perspective,” Ethan Johnson, president of the GBE board and Chalmers Insurance, said Monday.

Ethan Johnson announced the GBE board of directors’ decisions in a letter dated June 1 to its 104-member businesses.

Executive Director Suzanne Phillips was let go May 31, but will stay on as a volunteer board member, Johnson said.

“We simply don’t have the revenue coming in to support a paid position,” he wrote in his letter.

The $95 annual membership fee has been eliminated, he said, because local “business owners are struggling to stay afloat.”

At least four businesses in town, Grit and Grace Crossfit, 9 Rounds Fitness Center, Gorham Yoga and the  Jan Mee II restaurant, have closed permanently because of the pandemic, Phillips said.

Johnson said the overwhelming feedback he has received after announcing the changes is that members want GBE to stick around and the 30-year old exchange will continue to help business owners ride out the pandemic.

“We want to help everybody,” he said.

GBE recently organized Gorham business owners to urge legislators to oppose taxing federal Paycheck Protection Program funds.

The exchange itself felt the pandemic sting when state guidelines twice forced the cancellation of its Marketplace,  an annual springtime trade show showcasing Gorham businesses’ products and services. The fundraising event, held at the University of Southern Maine fieldhouse, also features demonstrations and activities by civic and youth groups.

Marketplace usually attracts 2,000 visitors a year and the two cancellations were “a big loss,”  Johnson said. He is hoping for its return in 2022.

Fundraisers that will be held as planned this year include the 20th annual GBE Golf Scramble and Barbecue to benefit Gorham High School Athletic Boosters on June 18 at Gorham Country Club and, in August, the Southern Maine Cornhole Invitational, which draws  participants from all over.

The Gorham Business Exchange got started three decades ago, launched as Gorham Business & Civic Exchange, according to Virginia Wilder Cross. Cross, a charter member, later became president but resigned to become executive director when it became apparent the position was needed, she said.

Membership dues were $40 in the beginning and remained unchanged for a number of years. They were raised as the organization grew and programs were added.

Phillips said new members are welcome and can register at gorhambusiness.org or by calling 892-5515.

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