As I gaze out my dining room window, I see sure signs that spring is upon us. The lawn is greening up, plants and flowers are slowly emerging from their winter slumber, and robins swoop and skip across the ground gathering material for their nests. All seems business as usual outdoors for this time of year, but this spring is nothing like any season most of us have experienced in our lifetime.
The COVID-19 outbreak has turned the world upside down, posing one of the greatest challenges to our health and, for many, our livelihood in generations. The travel, tourism and hospitality industry has been particularly impacted by Gov. JB Pritzker’s mandatory “shelter-in-place” order. Staying at home is the toughest of situations for hotels, restaurants, bars, theater, music and sports venues, area attractions and more. These small businesses, like many others, are hurting right now, but while down, tourism and hospitality in DeKalb County is certainly not out.
Many area restaurants remain open, transitioning their offerings to carry-out and/or delivery only. Thanks to several municipalities temporarily modifying their liquor ordinances, a number of DeKalb County restaurants are also able to provide package liquor among their food menu options for pickup or delivery. Several DeKalb County Bold Spirits partners have also deployed innovative initiatives to provide their products safely to customers with one local business transforming its traditional operations to produce a much-needed hygiene solution for health care workers.
Days before the governor issued the statewide “stay-at-home” order, Genoa’s Prairie State Winery was offering for purchase and curbside pickup many of the winery’s finest vintages. Fellow Bold Spirit businesses Byers Brewing Co., Forge Brewhouse and Jonamac Orchard created the DeKalb County Craft Brewer’s Alliance to provide their craft beer, cider and wine to customers for delivery. Whiskey Acres in DeKalb has transformed its spirits-making operation to produce and bottle hand sanitizer to make available free to health care workers in the area. A link to information about county restaurants and businesses providing carry out and/or delivery options is available via the DeKalb County Convention and Visitors Bureau COVID-19 update page at dekalbcountycvb.com.
The efforts of the Bold Spirits group are among examples of DeKalb County small businesses adjusting to the “new normal” during these challenging times. For instance, the Egyptian Theatre is conducting virtual hard-hat tours every Tuesday evening to highlight the progress of its ongoing renovations. Several music and performance venues are lining up virtual concerts featuring local artists to provide entertainment options for people to access online. Some local hotels are providing safe and secure space for online meetings for individuals who may not have access to the necessary technology and other resources to work remotely.
Recent federal economic stimulus legislation and initiatives at both the federal and state level to provide grants to small businesses, including those in the tourism/hospitality area, are an indication that government leaders are cognizant of the significant economic impact of the travel and tourism industry. Locally, the DCCVB has been intimately involved in the grassroots DeKalb County UNITES initiative to support and sustain small businesses in DeKalb County during the current health crisis. The DeKalb County UNITES website is essentially an aggregator of resources and information to assist in the support of local small businesses during this challenging time. The action county residents can take to support local small businesses include:
• Shop local, small businesses online.
• Eat from local restaurants using carry-out, curbside pickup, delivery and drive-thru options.
• Buy gift cards for local services.
• Accelerate the timing of your purchases.
• Businesses: Order in from local restaurants to feed your employees
• Help feed community caretakers
• Donate PPE
Additional information about DeKalb County UNITES and how to get involved is available at www.dekalbcountyunites.com.
In these uncertain times, one thing that remains certain is the resiliency and compassion of the great people of DeKalb County. We have a long history of rallying together to help our friends, family and neighbors in need. As we face unprecedented challenges, let us rediscover and explore the many great things DeKalb County has to offer and appreciate the good folks who call this community our home.
• Brad Hoey is president of the DeKalb County Convention and Visitors Bureau Board of Directors.