"We are in your corner..."

Posted By: David Jackson Chamber News,
Most of the time when we share information with you, the words tend to flow naturally. The right words are a bit harder to come by today. 
While it felt like our community and the world around us was making good progress toward a way of life not dominated by COVID-19 conversation, sure enough we find ourselves jerked back to this same point of uncertainty once again. 
Many of you have reached out to seek council about how to operate businesses and push forward with events in a way that is safe and responsible, but also profitable. This is traditionally the time of year where many of our high-volume tourism businesses earn a significant portion of their operating margin, or “hibernating money.” Impacts on volume at this time of year effect operations later in the winter and early spring. This is also a popular time for our non-profit businesses to hold mission-critical fundraising events that help provide funding for the programs our community needs to survive uncertain times like these.  
We’ve weathered storms before, but 18-months of instability and lack of accurate forecasting makes even the strongest businesses consider hard decisions. This has never been an issue of greed, but rather local businesses trying to make payroll, cover expenses, continue to provide services, and put food on their own tables. Our community is made of mostly small, family run businesses, and the decisions made about operations affect people here in the High Country. 
We hear the frustration and disappointment in your voices as you call and seek advice, ask questions, or simply commiserate. I wish we had easy answers that would make all our challenges fade into a beautiful Grandfather Mountain sunset and make our operational decisions easy and certain. Unfortunately, things remain complex and will stay that way for the next several months at least. 
Over the last 18-months our staff has worked hard to connect you with the best answers, advice, and guidance we can find. We pledge to continue that service to our membership and the broader community, as we all face decisions about how to operate, interact with customers, provide safe work environments for staff, and make the best of the hand we have been dealt by this virus and its impact on our economic situation.
A few things that may be helpful over the coming weeks:
  • The most important thing we can share with you is that visitors continue to prioritize interacting with businesses that prioritize health and safety. We get calls and emails daily asking which businesses are requiring vaccination or mask-wearing of employees. We also know that many of you are the frontlines of mandate implementation and enforcement, and that has not been the easiest of tasks to manage.  
  • We recommend you continue a healthy dialogue and share credible information with your staff about vaccines, the 3Ws, and review policies about how to deal with the occasionally unfriendly customer. Employees are rewarding those that look out for their best interests with loyalty. If you have safety policies that you have implemented for staff and/or customers, we encourage you to share that on social media, like Lily’s Snack Bar did a few weeks ago. Your customers are looking, and we will certainly help engage and share those stories as much as we can. 
  • Vaccine discussion has taken over the airwaves once again as the CDC and White House have released guidance on 3rd doses of Moderna and Pfizer vaccines. This week’s episode of our Mind Your Business podcast includes a conversation with Jennifer Greene, Director of Public Health for AppHealthCare, where she discusses who is eligible for a 3rd dose now, how delivery methods have changed since the mass vaccination events of the winter and spring, and what businesses can do to lessen the impact of COVID-19 on their current operations. We also recorded a video for the #KeepBooneHealthy YouTube channel that digs deeper into the 3rd dose conversation with a panel of local pharmacists and local healthcare providers. 
  • The safe operation of events has also been the subject of numerous conversations over the last few weeks. As recently as today, we saw the announcement that Merlefest will require proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test to gain entry into the festival next month. We’ve talked about operations with several non-profit businesses and urge you to stay in contact with your favorite organizations as they navigate these changes to their upcoming events. 
  • Earlier this week, the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services released interim guidance for those operating events and festivals as well as multi-day large gatherings. These are NOT mandates, but rather suggested guidelines for how you may implement health and safety procedures into your own operations.
  • AppHealthCare remains another good sounding board for these conversations, with staff that are willing to help you talk through the logistical challenges that can provide for an outcome that is as safe as possible. 
  • Several of our local municipalities have crafted language around mask wearing and other community guidelines. You can read the Town of Boone, Village of Blowing Rock, and Watauga County guidelines, along with other details from the State on our recently updated Recovery & Relaunch page at BooneChamber.com. We also have created an easy sign you can print if your business is inside the Town of Boone that can help explain the current mask mandate.  
As for our operations, we are going to strictly follow the health and safety guidelines that exist in our local mandates. For our upcoming Business After Hours event Thursday at Appalachian State, we’ll follow current campus policy regarding face coverings, which requires masks inside all public buildings regardless of vaccination status.  
The Chamber will require masks be worn at all indoor committee meetings and events. We are working to stage as many of our events with an inside/outside combination as possible over the next few months, including our Insight SeriesLunch & LearnBusiness After Hours, and upcoming Annual Meeting. As always, we will make any operational adjustments necessary based on changes to local or State guidance. 
Most of all, we want you to know that we are in your corner. We know these are tough circumstances to navigate and we all wish these challenges were behind us. We will keep providing content to you that connects you with the best information we can source from local experts. Should there be additional topics you’d like us to see covered, please let us know. 
In the meantime, be supportive of one another and support your neighbors by prioritizing local purchases when possible. Remember to support your favorite non-profits, if possible, especially those that our community is relying on to provide essential services. Thanks for the role you are playing to #KeepBooneHealthy. We look forward to easier days ahead.