Monroe County Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Brandy Gentry recently spoke about how the coronavirus pandemic has affected businesses across the county along with their current recovery rate.

Several months ago, many businesses across the state were temporarily forced to close because of the health risks associated with the COVID-19 virus.

“I think the initial close down was really devastating and it caused a lot of people to have to pivot,” said Gentry. “Fortunately the government came out with some incentives and benefits for them that were able to help the businesses out, but I do think that initially it was very scary.”

She believes the amount of recovery for the businesses in the county is dependent on their type of business.

“We have some businesses, such as the event business, that are taking the hard hit because events are not supposed to be happening with CDC guidelines, so those are still suffering,” she noted. “Other than that our tax revenues for our cities and our counties shows that people have been shopping local and that they have been really supportive of their local businesses.”

During the time of the shutdowns, the chamber held a “massive” campaign to encourage citizens of the county to shop locally, she noted.

“We worked with businesses to do giveaways such as a $25 gift card, for example, and really drove people to what they had to offer so we really tried to hit that shop local campaign,” Gentry stated. “We always hold a shop local campaign for the holidays but we really hit it hard when businesses had to close their doors.”

The chamber also helped host giveaways for online sales at local businesses.

“We are still assessing what our businesses need because, if they feel their sales are down, then we will do whatever it takes to drive business to their doors,” said Gentry.

New businesses have been created in the county in the wake of the closures caused by the pandemic.

“It seems there is always an uptick after an event like this, so if there is a massive layoff in an area there is usually an increase of entrepreneurs, which is kind of interesting,” she expressed. “Within a year we will see a spike in the businesses because these people who were out of a job realize that their job wasn’t resilient and try to figure out a way to make their life more stable.”

According to Gentry, Downtown Sweetwater has already welcomed 16 new businesses.

“We have already seen some of these new businesses, which has been amazing and I think that stimulus money helped them with that because it padded them a little and allowed them to think and not panic,” she said.

She hopes the businesses in the county are able to learn from the pandemic to allow them to become a stronger entity.

“They had to do whatever it took to make sure that our businesses were resilient. A lot of them really had to pivot,” she noted. “I hope they take what they have learned from the pandemic to grow their business.”

Gentry stated the chamber is there to help businesses in any way they can.

“We always have resources here at the chamber to help businesses and we really welcome people to reach out,” she expressed. “If you have an issue then let us know and we will help you with it.”

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