Tri-county chambers provide masks and resources for small businesses
The Goleta Chamber of Commerce wanted to support the city’s businesses as best it could in the middle of a pandemic.
So the chamber gathered as many email addresses and phone numbers as it could get — even if the business wasn’t a part of the chamber — and worked to figure out how to solve one of the biggest problems for the businesses: how to source personal protective equipment after the city mandated all food workers must wear facial covers.
That was an issue for many business owners and managers, who wanted to stay open but didn’t know where to even start looking for facial masks for their employees.
“They’re so hard to get, it’s like gold,” said Cole Pickett, a manager and bartender at Hollister Brewing Company.
The resources to get the masks were already in Goleta — some of the big tech firms were able to get their hands on the masks, and they were willing to get them for the chamber. The chamber just needed to get together donations to cover the cost of the masks.
To that end, the Goleta Chamber of Commerce raised $10,000 to get 20,000 masks for its businesses. Chamber staff went door to door in mid-April, distributing the masks to businesses to help them open their doors again.
Getting the masks to businesses is an important part of supporting the community, said Kristen Miller, CEO of the Goleta chamber. In addition to keeping workers safe, helping those businesses reopen or stay open longer will help preserve jobs, as business owners will be able to use takeout and delivery options to keep at least some capital flowing.
“The (businesses) who have stayed open will be able to stay open longer,” Miller said.
The chamber is also helping in other ways, like maintaining a list of restaurants that are open and offering takeout and delivery as a way to drive traffic to them.
Collecting and delivering the masks was a one-time operation for the Goleta Chamber of Commerce, which has since merged with the Santa Barbara Chamber of Commerce.
Stephanie Armstrong, the interim executive director of the new Chamber of the Santa Barbara Region, said the organization isn’t planning a mask distribution such as Goleta’s chamber did, but it is working to help businesses through the crisis.
“We want to be a resource for our business community and our community at large,” Armstrong said. “If we don’t have the answers, we would like to connect you with the people who do.”
So far, that’s meant weekly coffee and connection events for anyone who wants to join in. There have also been webinars to keep people informed about new issues and programs supporting businesses.
Those conversations and Zoom calls have created opportunities for businesses to support the community and each other in innovative, collaborative ways, and Armstrong said she is encouraged by that.
“Ultimately, this is a time for us to better serve our customers, and our customers are our community members,” Armstrong said.
The San Luis Obispo Chamber of Commerce has also been focused on making itself a resource for local businesses. Webinars on a more than weekly basis have helped business owners connect with figures in the community, like SLO City Manager Derek Johnson, and learn more about federal funding programs like the Payroll Protection Program.
Oxnard Chamber of Commerce also switched to holding virtual events like webinars, but like the Goleta chamber, is keeping a list of businesses residents can support. In Oxnard, that list isn’t just restaurants — it includes grocery stores, wineries, breweries and distilleries; anywhere people can get something they can take home and consume.
The list is more comprehensive than most in a couple of ways. The food venues are divided into those that only offer takeout, those doing delivery and take out, and those that include delivery, takeout and a drive through.
The grocery store section of the list includes the new schedules those stores are operating under, including times when the stores are open for just seniors, and the breweries section includes which offer pickup and which will ship alcohol to peoples’ homes.
The chambers’ work in staying flexible and finding new ways to support residents and businesses is crucial to keeping as many businesses around through the crisis and into the recovery period.
“It takes a long time to build up the number of restaurants (we have in Goleta),” Miller said. “I don’t want them to go away.”
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