The Franklin-Simpson Chamber of Commerce counted a number of successes for local small businesses during a challenging 2020 pandemic year.

“A bright spot in this whole COVID-19 process has been the ingenuity that we’ve seen our small businesses go to,” Franklin-Simpson Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Steve Thurmond said. “Facebook Live has become a huge thing. A lot of our little shops are using Facebook Live and I’ve actually had some of our merchants tell me that some of the months since March 2020 have been better than some of the months they had in the previous years because they have learned to use Facebook Live and sell online and do different things.”

Thurmond said the community has only lost a couple of businesses due to the pandemic.

“For a community like this that is huge,” Thurmond added. “Because of a community like this and the way we operate in Franklin, Kentucky, is the reason we haven’t lost more businesses.”

The chamber spent time in 2020 helping people get their PPE Loans and unemployment.

Thurmond said he was referring people to individuals in the state where the chamber has contacts multiple times a day.

“We advised people and helped people with their PPE Loans, but we did not do anything in the application process we helped pass people to the right people to help,” Thurmond said. “We spent a lot of time passing out information. When [the pandemic] first started, everything was in constant change. What they said about a PPE Loan today, would not be the same as tomorrow, or the same as the next day. So we were sending out a lot of information to the small businesses and industries in our community.”

The chamber’s gift certificate program is one way to ensure that money stays local because the gift certificates have to be spent at a chamber member in Franklin. Participating chamber members can choose to be apart of the program and the chamber covers the expenses so there is no charge to the businesses.

“[Participating chamber members] get the benefit of selling a product and taking the gift certificate, just like cash,” Thurmond said. “During the pandemic, we had organizations buying our gift certificates and giving them away on the radio so that the money would stay in Franklin.”

Thurmond said in a normal year, the chamber would sell anywhere from $3,000 to $4,000 in gift certificates. In 2020, the chamber sold over $18,000 in gift certificates.

“That is a tribute to the community for wanting to support small business,” Thurmond said. “We harp all the time on ‘shop local’ these organizations — there were three — two of them gave certificates to their employees and one of them put the certificates on the radio. What we see is what we always see about Franklin, Kentucky. When times are tough, we pull together and the community wanted to help the small businesses and I tribute that to the reason we didn’t lose more businesses than we did.”

The chamber has also sponsored the annual Small Business Saturday in Franklin since its inception.

“This year to try to help the businesses we doubled the number of prizes — we went from $500 in prizes to $1,000 in prizes,” Thurmond said. “We expanded Small Business Saturday for a week. During that week, over $84,000 was spent at chamber participating merchants who were participating in Small Business Saturday. That shows the support of the community, that also shows that we had people come from out of town.”

Thurmond said the 2020 Health Fair event took place the week before COVID-19 began affecting Simpson County.

“The Health Fair is always a great interest, especially to seniors in our community,” Thurmond said. “It’s when they get screenings they wouldn’t necessarily go to the hospital or a doctor’s office and get, the beautiful thing is everything that they do there is free. In 2020, we had as large of a crowd as we’ve had at the health fair. It was a success due to both numbers of vendors and attendees.”

In 2021, Thurmond said the chamber is not planning a heath fair for the beginning of March when the event normally takes place.

“Our healthcare people are so strained and stressed right now that we are in negotiation with The Medical Center on when we might be able to have one because we do believe it is important and I hope with their help we will be able to schedule one, but we certainly can’t guarantee that this year because of their assets are being put to take care of the people right now and while the health fair is very important it’s just got to be down on the list of taking care of COVID-19 and the problems that we as human beings have over a year,” Thurmond added.

Thurmond said the chamber office is making preparations to have a live Garden Spot 5K Run/Walk this year as well as a car show and Festival on the Square, but realize those plans may change.

In 2020, the Garden Spot race was canceled in-person and instead held virtually with almost 400 participants. Going forward, Thurmond said the virtual aspect of the race is planned to become part of the event going forward.

The Franklin-Simpson Chamber of Commerce’s Annual Meeting was canceled in January due to the pandemic; however, board members are continuing service due to limited participation in 2020.

In addition, the annual car show and Festival on the Square festivities were canceled in September 2020.

“Will [the events] occur on the dates they usually occur remains to be seen, will they be the way that they always have been remains to be seen. Hopefully the vaccine is going to make a huge difference,” Thurmond said.

Thurmond said eye openers, after hours and ribbon cutting events are currently on hold.

“As far as ribbon cuttings go, at the end of 2020 when things appeared to be getting better we required masks, people did a good job with social distancing, and we had two or three ribbon cuttings and wanted to start scheduling more. Just about that time is when we started having the spike again and our board determined we needed to shut [the events] back down. The chamber feels it needs to be the example and if the CDC and health officials are telling us that you need to do this, then that’s what we need to do. We stopped having the ribbon cuttings because we were having a spike in the COVID-19 cases.”

Thurmond said the chamber has let businesses know that there is not deadline for a ribbon cutting when the time comes when people can get together again.

“We learned things in this pandemic that weren’t bad things to learn it was just a tough way to have to learn them,” Thurmond said. “We’re learning to do things differently to cope with the problems we have and I’m really proud of our small businesses and how they’ve adapted.”

As he began work on the budget, Thurmond said he has noticed that the chamber’s renewal rate has been ahead of what it has been in the past.

“We are further along in renewals than we usually are at this time of the year,” Thurmond said. “I take it as people have a positive attitude that they are renewing their membership in the chamber and they are wanting to move forward and do the things we normally do and get back to as much normal as we can possibly can.”

For more information, call the chamber office at 270-586-7609.

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