Whatever you want to call the past two months, challenging is likely a word we can all agree on. Our economy is hurting, and so are our Chamber of Commerce members. Your chamber has done a lot of listening and shifting over the last eight weeks. We’ve listened as fear gripped our business community, and we have worked hard to shift our focus as our local business owners (our friends) struggle to hold their heads above water while holding onto their livelihoods. This has not been easy, and frankly, your chamber could do little about these challenges except to try to absorb some of the shock as best we could.

However, there is something we can do about the carnage our local economy is experiencing. Now that restrictions are lifting, I want to encourage you to get out and support local. Buy local. And shop your fellow chamber members first. This situation has not moved along as quickly as we would have liked, and meanwhile, our local business community is suffering.

Before you assume that I’m suggesting that we rip off the Band-Aid and throw caution to the wind, I’m not. There is a place for caution in this pandemic. But, for the last eight weeks, we have become conditioned to believe that we are now in an unsafe environment. There are some who believe that leaving the safety of our homes is reckless for ourselves and others. For those who believe that, we do understand. Please be where you are most comfortable. People should reenter and engage in the economy when they’re ready.

But I encourage you to think of this: Small operators are every bit as safe as the big boxes and the chains. Perhaps even more so, based on density. And, what happens to our community if our local businesses begin to shut their doors, because now in their time of need, we didn’t come together to support them? The thinking that “essential businesses are safe” and “nonessential” businesses are “unsafe” must end.

As critical thinkers, we need to find the balance between safety and commerce. The balance between lives and livelihoods. Our community depends on it. Our local economy depends on it.

Denton, we have work to do. We have businesses to run and organizations to support. While we cannot remove risk from everyone’s life, we can mitigate it. And collectively, we have. There are new, enhanced regulatory restrictions on just about every business under the sun. I’d bet most are safer today than before we heard the word coronavirus. Sure, there are those among us who should not expose themselves to these risks. We know, accept and encourage that they remain safe and healthy.

I’ve had the opportunity to interact with a variety of chamber members and small-business owners over the past two months. We have practiced appropriate distancing, utilized masks, and I have to say, there hasn’t been a moment that I have felt unsafe. Additionally, every single one of those businesses have made considerable adjustments to accommodate their customer base.

Here’s what I’m hearing …

“Two months of revenue gone.”

“Recovery likely 5-10 years away.”

“Payroll Protection Program only goes so far.”

“If I don’t work, my kids don’t eat.”

And then there was one question that I found particularly compelling, “How do we tune out the noise, and accept that it’s OK to continue commerce, particularly with enhanced regulation and the proper precautions?” People’s livelihoods are at stake.

Again, please don’t misinterpret my message. If you’re concerned, stay home. If you are at-risk, stay home. But, for those who can manage the risk, it is time to get back to supporting local businesses. You know how to do this. Work safe. Shop safe. And for goodness sake, keep washing your hands.

Need guidelines or resources on how to safely reopen your doors or return to the office? We have those. Call us at 940-315-9101 or email me at erica@denton-chamber.org.

The Denton chamber crew and Discover Denton remains on duty. Some of us are working from the office, some are still working from home. We are working on your behalf and ready to assist you, as we slowly work together to rebuild what we have lost.

ERICA PANGBURN is president of the Denton Chamber of Commerce and can be reached at 940-382-9693 and erica@denton-chamber.org.

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