It has been a challenging year for area businesses, but the region’s chamber of commerce representatives report that many businesses have found ways to adapt through the summer, have developed new tacts in the leaf-viewing season and are looking ahead toward Thanksgiving and Christmas.
“We check in with businesses all the time,” said Patty Brown, executive director of the Red Wing Area Chamber of Commerce. “Some say that July was the best they’ve had on record. August was similar. For September, we are getting really good reports.”
Brown said there are several factors that play into those results. Many restaurants were able to extend their services outdoors, add curbside delivery, and increase takeout orders. Other businesses have found innovative ways to keep the doors open and sales moving.
“One of the biggest factors for this is the beautiful weather we have been having,” Brown said. “People are ready to get out and about. With COVID, they don’t want a plane trip, but they can drive to Red Wing, spend the day, and then head home for the evening where they feel safe.”
One unusual circumstance has brought many visitors to this Minnesota rivertown this month.
“They heard about the tragedy at Liberty’s Restaurant,” Brown said, referring to the car crash that brought down the historic restaurant's facade. “They heard about it on the news and on social media, and they wanted to come see it. Any time you walk over there, there are people taking pictures.”
Many visitors are coming in from the Twin Cities and Rochester, Brown said.
Hudson, Wisconsin, is seeing similar visitor traffic, according to Mary Claire Olson Potter, president of the Hudson Area Chamber of Commerce and Tourism Bureau.
“I think everyone is experiencing the effects of COVID in some way,” Potter said. “People have been very creative in the ways that they are continuing to provide products for their customers.”
She said many businesses have put up plexiglass and safety curtains to help customers feel comfortable, and are making sure that people wear masks and practice social distancing. The chamber made posters that say “Be Patient, Be Kind, Keep Others in Mind.” She said it is part of an effort to have consistent messages for all of the businesses.
Although things have been going well in Ellsworth, Becky Beissel with the Ellsworth Chamber of Commerce said the hardest part for many local businesses is dealing with the sense of the unknown.
“It’s hard to plan and look forward when we don’t know what anything is going to look like in three months, six months, or 12 months,” Beissel said. “They are remaining optimistic and trying really hard and doing the best they can.”
Area chambers have many events and programs planned to help promote local businesses.
“We really focused our efforts on all the outdoor activities and amenities like hiking, biking, and kayaking, all those great things you can do in Red Wing,” Brown said.
She added that several special events will be held, though most will be smaller or in a different form than previously. The Red Wing Arts Festival this weekend, Oct. 10-11. Downtown Mainstreet will have its Holiday Stroll Nov. 27 in some fashion and Small Business Saturday on Nov. 28. The Red Wing Chamber will hold as many live business events as it can, especially while they can still be held outdoors.
“As the winter months unfold, we are going to be counting on local residents to come out and help our local businesses,” Brown said. “It’s going to be an interesting winter with all the COVID protocols that everyone has to follow, so we are hoping that people are able to feel comfortable and get out and know that our businesses have worked very hard with their plans to help keep customers and employees safe during this time while encouraging traffic to their locations.”
“You can go on the Afton Cruise Line and float down the river and see the trees,” Potter said. “There are many parks that you can explore. There are things that people can do safely in the community.”
Potter said she is impressed with the resilience that businesses have shown during this difficult time, and how well they have solved problems and worked together to get through the pandemic.
“We are all learning a lot of new things that, if this hadn’t happened, maybe we wouldn’t have learned,” she said, “but many of those things are going to stay with us as we move forward. We don’t know the ending to all of this. We just have to be diligent.”
In Ellsworth, Beissel said the Chamber of Commerce, working with local businesses created a program called Ellsworth Bucks, an online system of vouchers that can be redeemed at participating businesses.
“The school district and parents’ clubs are purchasing these as awards,” Beissel said. “In the past, they might give them a Visa gift card, and now they give them Ellsworth Bucks. It’s a way to keep the local dollars local.”
Complicating efforts in Wisconsin is Gov. Tony Evers' emergency this week restricting indoor gatherings to 25% of a building's posted capacity.
Rick Korpela, River Falls Chamber of Commerce and Tourism Bureau executive director, issued an email newsletter Thursday explaining some changes in that community.
"Ladies Night Out 2020 will proceed as planned for next Thursday, Oct. 15," he said. However, River Dazzle, which includes the Chili Crawl and lighted parade, is canceled.
"Chamber staff are busy working on virtual events and sales promotions to run during the entire holiday season as a one-year replacement for River Dazzle," he wrote.
In addition, RiverTown Multimedia is working to promote local businesses with some advertising opportunities.
“This year is going to be a unique year for holiday shopping,” said Eric Olson, advertising manager for RiverTown Multimedia. “In an effort to help local businesses get their holiday messaging out to our communities, RiverTown Multimedia will be offering special holiday packages that include a sponsored article to inform our readers about what they are doing this holiday season. Whether it's directing people to their website, adjusting store hours, extending sales periods, or any message a business wants local consumers to learn. In addition to being printed in the newspaper, articles can be shared on social media, posted to blogs, or printed in other publications.”
Businesses interested in learning more can email advertisings@RiverTowns.net or call Olson directly at 651-301-7825.