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Local

'If you want business to stick around, you have to support them now': Chamber of commerce leaders remain optimistic

Despite COVID-19, DeKalb County Chambers of Commerce leaders remain optimistic

Katy Gebauer, from Grundy Center Iowa who is in town visiting her aunt, does some shopping in downtown Sycamore Thursday afternoon. Businesses that survived the shutdown during the first phases of the pandemic are starting to reopen in DeKalb County with varying results.
Katy Gebauer, from Grundy Center Iowa who is in town visiting her aunt, does some shopping in downtown Sycamore Thursday afternoon. Businesses that survived the shutdown during the first phases of the pandemic are starting to reopen in DeKalb County with varying results.

Although some businesses have closed in DeKalb County during the COVID-19 pandemic, Anna Coates said that there has been some positivity: "This can be the start of something new, a new start."

"Quite a few businesses have started and many new and existing businesses have joined the chamber during the pandemic," said Coates, the membership manager with the DeKalb Chamber of Commerce. "We have seen an increase of chamber members, because businesses have seen how important it is to stay connected and form new connections during this time."

Local small businesses that have recently closed include Ren's Chinese Restaurant, Ristorante Di Acquaviva, Swanson's Discount Vacuums, UOI Boutique and Whimsical Perspective in Sycamore and Marco's Pizzeria in DeKalb. Business owners in the hospitality, restaurant, retail and other service industries have for months grappled with severe loss of revenue due to loss of customers and shutdown orders from the state in an effort to curb the spread of the coronavirus.

When reached, several business owners declined comment.

Community initiatives cropped up as the pandemic began, such as Taking Care of Our Caretakers – a volunteer group which raised over $26,000 to support local businesses and provide food for DeKalb County frontline workers, and DeKalb County UNITES, a business co-op to help provide support and guidance for small business owners throughout the pandemic and apply for government aid.

Extraordinary efforts notwithstanding, some businesses have still had to shutter their doors, however.

Matt Duffy, the executive director of the DeKalb Chamber of Commerce, said that the coronavirus was just one reason some of the businesses might have closed.

"Businesses close all the time for a number of reasons," he said. "Some of those businesses were already headed that route. It's good to see that not too many have closed in our area and that the community has rallied behind and help support them. There is some solace knowing that everyone is in the same boat, everyone in our area, across the country and around the world."

Rose Treml, Sycamore Chamber of Commerce's executive director, said that business owners during the pandemic "are entrepreneurs, brave, courageous and creative."

"The pandemic is not going to let them fail as long as they have the community," Treml said. "We've been seeing people shopping at small businesses and supporting the community now more than ever in the past. Don't wait to shop local during the holidays, do it now. If you want a business to stick around, you have to support them, and support them now."

Krissy Johnson, executive director of the Genoa Area Chamber of Commerce, said that "the best thing people can do to help local businesses is by shopping or eating out."

"I'd recommend buying a gift card to use at the store or restaurant," she said. "That gives them cash influx and the monetary help they need now, and the gift cards can be redeemed at a later date."

Coates suggests calling and asking businesses how, other than shopping or purchasing gift cards, a customer can help.

"Reach out to the business and ask, 'What do you need to survive and make it during this difficult time?'" Coates said. "It could even be something as easy as writing a review on Facebook or Yelp."

Duffy said that one of the biggest difficulties of the pandemic was its suddenness.

"Businesses went from being open one day to being closed the next," he said. "There were no phases to closing down. The suddenness of the closures was a big adjustment to make. But business owners were resilient. They made adjustments and necessary changes and have taken precautions. They have started to do things differently, from adding online shopping and curbside pickup, and they plan to continue those practices to be more successful in the long run."

To support local businesses as they re-open during different stages of Gov. JB Pritzker's Restore Illinois plan, the Genoa Area Chamber of Commerce offers ribbon tying ceremonies instead of ribbon cutting ceremonies.

"We've had seven Retying the Community Back Together ceremonies and a few more are planned," Johnson said. "It's important to let our local businesses know that we support them. Genoa has always been strong, and we're going to remain strong. We're all going to get through this together with our community's support."

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