SM chamber helping small businesses despite loss of big tourism events
Like every city in Santa Barbara County, Santa Maria has had a tough go of it this year due to the novel coronavirus.
Normal big time summer events like the Santa Maria Elks Rodeo, the Santa Barbara County Fair and the West Coast Kustoms Car Show bring in a ton of tourism, and in turn money, to the city every year.
Though these events have been canceled, the city remains optimistic about the future of its local economy.
“What gives me hope is we haven’t seen mass closures yet. We have seen one or two close their doors but it hasn’t been anywhere near the level that I think everybody was afraid of three or four months ago,” Glenn D. Morris, president and CEO of the Santa Maria Valley Chamber of Commerce, told the News-Press.
“That doesn’t mean it’s not coming, but that’s where we have to step in and tell businesses that if they are struggling, reach out to us now before it’s too late.”
Mr. Morris has been a part of the chamber since 2014 and has focused on economic development for the majority of his career.
As a result, Mr. Morris knows the bind businesses are in, but he also knows the commerce is doing everything it can to help them out.
“We really do everything we can to connect them to local resources to help them… The challenge there is that I think so many of our businesses are just putting their head down, trying to get through the day and just trying to keep their business afloat,” Mr. Morris said.
“Sometimes it’s hard to get their attention and tell them about the constant new information, so we really just try to make sure that it’s available when they’re ready for it in a form they can easily consume and digest it.”
In July, the chamber of commerce began sending out surveys to local businesses in attempts to better understand their current situations.
Some of the results from July showed that 76% of the businesses had reported a drop of at least 25% in revenue over the past 30 days, with 23% of those businesses reporting a drop in revenue of at least 75%.
In addition, 65% of those businesses say increased mitigation expenses had the largest impact on their business, with another 59% saying canceled events have also had a big impact.
“The other lens with these big events really is the impact on the community and the local side of it,” Mr. Morris said.
“I think there’s a lot of businesses that expect to sell a lot of products to people that are downtown, or that are in town for rodeo right, or that are coming in for the fair or some of those kinds of things. People are used to them being here so businesses have lost that traffic.”
The results for the next survey should be released sometime next week, according to Mr. Morris.
“What we saw in the July survey is that it was hard. We’re taking big hits, but we’re still reasonably optimistic we can get through it. That was the temperature,” Mr. Morris said.
“It’ll be interesting to see now a month further into it to see if they’re seeing the light at the end of the tunnel or if they think we’re headed in the wrong direction.”
While offering support, Mr. Morris said the chamber is also part of a team that is hoping to announce a small business micro grant program to help some of the local businesses in Santa Maria.
“They’re still trying to wrap up all the funding but we are working on the marketing side, so that’s hopefully coming soon,” Mr. Morris said.
The chamber has also been actively running advertising campaigns encouraging residents to support local shops.
“Support local is the approach we’re taking and we’re trying to remind everybody that when you support a local business, you’re supporting your neighbor, you’re supporting your family and supporting your friends,” Mr. Morris said.
These campaigns are why Mr. Morris is also not worried about the recent lack of tourism from the loss of major events.
“Our hotels are seeing some recovery, nowhere near where they would normally be, but they are slowly trickling upwards. On the tourism side we can at least attract some visitors back and pick up some of the money that way,” Mr. Morris said.
He added that the Central Coast really is as good a place as any to visit during the coronavirus pandemic. The reason being that there are many places that allow for natural social distancing whether it be hiking trails or wine tasting.
“We don’t just tell people to come, we say come and be responsible but we actually lend ourselves pretty well to those protocols. The things people do here aren’t usually in large gatherings. We don’t have Disneyland and we don’t have crowded beaches, what you could do here is more orientated for small groups and people being spaced out,” Mr. Morris said.
The Elks Rodeo and Parade was the latest event to be canceled, making the announcement official last week. While the rodeo was canceled, Elks Recreation partnered with the city’s Parks and Recreation team to announce their first ever “Christmas in the Country,” a holiday light experience that will be held during the holiday season.
These small pivots make Mr. Morris confident that Santa Maria will recover, hopefully a theme that will continue countywide.