Ever since their creation, chambers of commerce have revolved around social events and in-person networking to benefit businesses and communities alike.
Now, as many businesses have been forced to close their doors in response to the coronavirus crisis, chambers are getting creative to provide necessary tools and resources to their communities.
The Merrimack Valley Chamber of Commerce has introduced a daily business advisory and twice-weekly business assistance webinars on topics such as unemployment and how to reach customers online.
The chamber, which is based in Lawrence, has also begun hosting virtual networking events that allow business owners to discuss their businesses and how they are coping with the ongoing uncertainty.
“What we’re doing is creating a social mechanism for [members] to not only talk about their business, but to talk about themselves and connect with people that they formerly would see at a chamber event,” said chamber president and CEO Joe Bevilacqua. “We’re trying to create a networking opportunity so they can promote their business, but at the same time get the social connection back in place.”
At the Metro South Chamber of Commerce, based in Brockton, president and CEO Chris Cooney has been working to highlight the federal government’s programs to benefit small-business owners such as the Payroll Protection Program.
“We’ve become kind of a clearinghouse, a point of contact in the field for the state and the federal government,” said Cooney.
Currently, the chamber is working to survey and address businesses’ needs, help members understand the tools and resources that are available to them, and assist members in managing employee issues and health needs.
The chamber’s website outlines the resources available to its community members including how to set up Zoom, tips for working from home, and updates on restaurants in the area.
The Somerville Chamber of Commerce has gone the extra mile to benefit local restaurants with Somerville Delivers, a website that keeps an updated list and locator for all of the restaurants delivering in Somerville. The website is a collaborative effort between the City of Somerville, the Somerville Chamber of Commerce Dining and Nightlife Group, East Somerville Main Streets, and others.
Stephen Mackey, president and CEO of the Somerville chamber, encourages communication between community members to help them feel less alone during this time of isolation.
“Talk to each other. It’s not cliché, we’re all in this together,” said Mackey. “It’s not just about one industry or another. It’s not just about one employer or another. It’s all of us.”
Among many initiatives, the Newton-Needham Regional Chamber has launched a “shop local” directory and campaign to help local businesses during the pandemic.
The chamber hosts frequent webinars and has waived member dues to make information as accessible as possible.
“We opened our doors to everyone. We know that we need to prop up the entire community,” said chamber president Greg Reibman.
The MetroWest Chamber of Commerce, based in Framingham, also hosts webinars to help members navigate the crisis.
“Things are changing daily, but we’re trying to keep everybody updated,” chamber president Jim Giammarinaro said.
He said members are trying to find unique ways to keep their businesses alive, particularly nonprofits during what should have been their fund-raising season.
“Working closely with [our members] and hearing their situation is very sobering,” Giammarinaro said. “We just want to be there or support in any way we can.”
Tim Cahill took over as president of the Quincy Chamber of Commerce two-and-a-half years ago. He witnessed the chamber’s transition from events and networking to teaming up with the city’s Affordable Housing Trust Fund.
Cahill said the fund pays rent on behalf of hospitality workers in an effort to fill a gap for workers severely impacted financially by the pandemic.
“[Workers] are literally living paycheck to paycheck. We see that with every application that comes in,” Cahill said.
The application, which takes about 10 minutes to fill out, requests verification of working in a restaurant, hospitality, or food/beverage industry. An approved application results in funds being sent directly to a landlord on the tenant’s behalf.
As he tries to picture an end to the pandemic, Cahill reflects on the questions that will determine the local economy’s future.
“What do consumers feel?" he asked. "Are they going to be comfortable going to a restaurant? Are they going to be comfortable being in crowds?”