WINCHESTER – The North Dundas Chamber of Commerce has lost roughly half its membership since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.
During a Feb. 19 phone interview, the chamber’s administrative coordinator Mary Tessier said membership is normally around 105 but has decreased by 50 per cent because of challenges caused by the pandemic. She said businesses are not renewing their memberships for two reasons: the need to save every dollar, including the small membership fee; and the need to focus completely on saving their businesses.
The chamber’s board of directors has also been cut in half, going from 10 to 12 executives to only five or six. Unfortunately, due to regulatory policy, the open board positions cannot be filled until an annual general meeting (AGM) is held and the collective membership votes. While the AGM is generally held in January, it has been delayed until the remaining executive can organize a virtual meeting.
The chamber is run mainly by volunteers, Tessier said. She also noted that her 10-hour administrative position has been cut to five hours to compensate for the decrease in chamber finances. Tessier attributes the drop in available funds to lost membership fees, as well as to the cancellation of last year’s income-producing Local Business Expo, which is usually held in the spring and normally sees more than 100 businesses register for the event.
“The Expo used to give us lots of exposure,” Tessier said. “When we went out marketing the Expo, we always picked up extra members.”
As for 2021, it remains unclear whether the Local Business Expo will take place. The chamber and the township of North Dundas are currently discussing the potential for hosting a virtual event this year.
“We’re trying to figure out a way to have a business expo in partnership with the township,” she said. “Now we’re going back to the drawing board and seeing how we can do it in a world of COVID.” If it does go ahead, it will be about cost recovery rather than making revenues, she added.
Tessier said the remaining chamber executive is not focused on recruitment. She said they understand the difficulties most small business owners are currently facing.
“We’re treading lightly,” she said, adding that the chamber is looking at opportunities for educational and networking sessions to be held virtually.
In fact, the chamber has partnered with the township to bring back the “Bring Your Own Breakfast” event. This popular program is usually held four times a year but was not held at all in 2020 due to COVID-19. This year, rather than cancelling, they are taking it virtual. The Feb. 26 event will take place from 8:30 a.m. to 10 a.m., it is free, and people can register by sending an email to: firstname.lastname@example.org.
The virtual breakfast event will feature Seguin Financial founder Andrew Seguin and the Community Futures Development Corporation (CFDC)’s COVID-19 business relief advisor, Doreen Ashton Wagner. It will focus on helping business owners understand what is currently available in COVID-19 funding, who is eligible, and how to apply.
“We’re just trying to make it simpler and easier,” she said. “[The speakers] will hopefully have tips for them.”
The North Dundas Chamber’s executive is also looking at hosting virtual seminars on e-commerce and generating website traffic, Tessier said. Right now, they are looking at different options for hosting these virtual events, hoping they can find something that is beneficial and that allows for networking and breakout rooms for small group discussions.
“I’m hoping that post-COVID, we’ll be stronger than before,” Tessier said.