Chamber director: Support small businesses in spite of pandemic

Greater Westfield Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Kate Phelon. (THE WESTFIELD NEWS FILE PHOTO_

WESTFIELD- As COVID-19 continues to spread, markets are naturally reacting with extreme volatility with some of the worst stock market drops seen in decades followed by some of the biggest gains just days later. 

It is not just the stock market, however, that is feeling the economic bite of coronavirus. Local businesses will naturally be impacted if people are not going out due to fear of the virus. 

Kate Phelon, executive director of the Greater Westfield Chamber of Commerce, said that it is important to keep supporting businesses in and around Westfield despite worries over the spread of the virus. 

“I think a message needs to get out that we should get out and spend money,” said Phelon on Friday. “People should continue to patronize the bars and restaurants.”

She said that everybody should obviously be following the guidelines on proper hand sanitization and practice social distancing when possible in order to combat the spread of COVID-19 and other seasonal diseases. Ultimately, she said that people really need to be more positive.

“At the same time, we need to be mindful of the guidelines and respect people’s choices,” said Phelon.

She said that obviously certain people like government officials and health professionals will need to follow different guidelines, while private businesses can set their own. 

“This isn’t a one-size-fits-all,” said Phelon. 

Phelon said that the Chamber of Commerce will be sending out a notice to its member businesses next week with advice on how to handle the pandemic. She said that they will be following a protocol of not having gatherings of more than 50 people.

“I want to have a more common sense approach. I’m wiping down the surfaces and door handles at work and I’m doing the same thing at home,” said Phelon, “but it is not going to stop me from living.”

She compared the current situation with how people reacted to terrorism in the years following the September 11 attacks. People stopped travelling and they lived in fear of attacks or mass shootings.

She said that the Chamber of Commerce does have two upcoming events planned for March that have not yet been cancelled. The events planned in April, however, are “wait and see” for the chamber. 

“Things like the St. Patricks Day breakfast had to be cancelled obviously because the university had to close,” said Phelon, “But I’m worried about our small businesses. They struggle as it is. Even the chamber itself has taken a hit from this.”

She reiterated that people should keep spending locally rather than shopping online, something she would like to see anyway without a pandemic. 

As of Friday morning, when the interview with Phelon took place, there were no confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Hampden County. Should that change, Phelon said that the Chamber and all businesses should adhere to any new guidelines that are put out. 

Phelon’s advice, echoing that of most health professionals, is for people to practice good hand washing and sanitizing. Good hand washing typically means using plenty of soap, warm water, and washing and scrubbing your hands for at least 20 seconds. 

“We keep going back to the very basic things that we should have been doing to stop the flu anyway,” said Phelon, “It’s a terrible disease that kills hundreds of thousands of people annually. It’s unfortunate that it takes a pandemic for people to realise good hygiene.”

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