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Supporting Our Local Businesses with Cheryl Kuhn

Podcast published: October 30, 2020

With Chester County and much of the nation facing what might be a second wave of COVID-19, we turned to Cheryl Kuhn to understand how businesses in southern Chester County are faring and how local chambers of commerce are helping those companies navigate the coronavirus economy. Cheryl is the President & CEO of the Southern Chester County Chamber of Commerce.

Links

Main Street organizations:

Notes

What are businesses in southern Chester County experiencing as we appear to be approaching a second wave of the coronavirus?

  • Overall, businesses are experiencing a cautious optimism about the future.
  • While some businesses are in the extreme of “for” and “against” meeting in person again, most businesses are focused on sensibly trying to return to as much business normalcy as safely possible.
  • While the cases of COVID-19 are spiking, the rates of death are decreasing, which seems to indicate that medical and health professionals are better treating patients with the virus.
  • Some businesses in southern Chester County are thriving: accounting firms and landscapers, for example.
  • Anecdotally, landscapers are busier because home owners are home when the landscapers are working so those owners are asking for more services and upgrades to their yards.
  • Accountants are also likely busy because of the pandemic loan and grant programs.

How are restaurants preparing for the colder, winter months?

  • COVID-19 has been terrible for restaurants and events spaces.
  • Early in the lockdown periods, farmers had to destroy crops and produce because they could not sell to the closed restaurants and event venues.
  • Some local restaurants have purchased tents, heaters, and tables and chairs – expenses that the owners had not predicated or saved for.
  • Indoor seating will be limited to 20% of capacity, so the winter months are likely to be very hard for the restaurant, event, and hospitality sector.
  • The Southern Chester County Chamber of Commerce is launching a campaign to support local restaurants: The campaign will feature four restaurants per week and will be focused on a “support local” theme.
  • The former owner of the Dillworth Inn is working with local restaurant owners to help them make sure that their venues are in compliance with local and state COVID-19 health guidelines.
  • Restaurant owners interested in taking advantage of this service should contact Cheryl directly at the SCCCC.

How has the SCCCC pivoted to serve members and business community during COVID-19?

  • Since mid-March, the chamber of commerce has been working remotely.
  • The team was two full-time employees (including Cheryl) and a single part-time employee; the part-time employee was laid-off during to the coronavirus.
  • The SCCCC team quickly realized that COVID-19 would prove a long-term challenge – and so connected with the US Chamber of Commerce in Washington, D.C., and the PA Chamber of Business and Industry in Harrisburg to partner, and to make sure that the voice of businesses in southern Chester County was being heard.
  • The SCCCC opened up its communications beyond its members and close prospects – it shared information with everyone in the local business community.
  • The SCCCC has worked alongside federal, state, and local government.
  • There are nine chambers of commerce in Chester County, representing 5,000 businesses.
  • The SCCCC has hosted virtual town halls, informative webinars and other meetings.
  • The SCCCC is on Chester County Commissioners’ Business Taskforce – which created restorechestercounty.org.
  • The SCCCC partnered with local Main Street organizations in Kennett Square and Oxford.

Intro: Hey, everybody. And welcome to another episode of Start Local, the podcast focused on helping businesses in Chester County, PA, and the greater Philly area as we navigate through this Covid-19 economy. 

My name’s Joe Casabona. And before I bring in Liam, my fellow co-host, I want to tell you about our newsletter, the Start Local Monthly. It is a very free, very monthly newsletter where you will get tips, tricks, news, and advice from around Chester County in the greater Philadelphia area. So if you are interested in this very free, very monthly newsletter, go ahead and sign up at [startlocal.co/news]. That’s [startlocal.co/news]. And now, let me bring in my fellow co-host. Liam, how are you today?

Liam Dempsey: Very good, Joe. I’m super excited to get that newsletter out the door. We’ve been seeing the subscriber numbers climb and we’re getting ready to do our first issue here more than just a welcome note. So, sign up soon folks, ’cause it’s coming. It’s coming.

Joe Casabona:  Yes. Awesome. Awesome. And thanks to everybody who’s already signed up. We really appreciate your support there. And our guest today is Cheryl Kuhn. She is the president and CEO of the Southern Chester County Chamber of Commerce. Cheryl, how are you today? 

Cheryl Kuhn: I’m fabulous. Thank you for asking and thank you for having me this morning, Joe and Liam.

Joe Casabona: Absolutely our pleasure. Thank you for coming on the show and chitchatting about a number of things affecting businesses in Southern Chester County. But before we get into that, why don’t you tell us a little bit about who you are and what you do? 

Cheryl Kuhn: Sure, absolutely. So, as you know, my name is Cheryl Kuhn. I’m president and CEO, County Chamber of Commerce. I’ve been here a little over nine years. Feels like nine days in some ways and feels like a hundred years in others.

But we are similar to other chambers in that we have a service area runs from Kennett Square down to the state lines of Delaware and Maryland. We have just under 500 businesses that are members of our chamber and we operate in an 18 municipality service area with three school districts in that service area as well.

We have a 24 person board of directors. We have a seven person executive committee and five standing committees that currently meet via Zoom.  A couple of them are talking about meeting in person, but it’s, it would be wonderful to do that again and be together, but that’s who we are. That’s what we do.

Liam Dempsey: Thanks for that, Cheryl. That’s a great overview of the organization. I really appreciate it. So the Southern Chester County Chamber of Commerce has been around a long time, and you were kind enough to share that you’ve been there almost a decade now.

And inevitably, you’ve seen a lot of things and a lot of change, particularly since March of this year. Can you tell us and tell our listeners a little bit about what the business is in Southern Chester County are experiencing as we appear to be approaching a second wave of the coronavirus. And in asking you that, II appreciate that there’s a lot of diverse businesses down in Southern Chester County, so if you want to touch on some of the different sectors and how, what they’re experiencing, that’d be really helpful.

Cheryl Kuhn: Sure. So I’d be happy to. That’s a very good question because in thinking about that, I would say overall that our businesses are experiencing more or less a cautious optimism about the future. You have businesses that are extreme in the sense of for and against meeting in person. but for the most part, most of our businesses are looking forward to being in person again and trying to get something back to a business sense of normalcy.

Just as an example, we held our fall launch on the 22nd of October. Our keynote speaker was George Hager Jr. who’s the CEO of Genesis Healthcare, which is corporate headquarters is in Kennet Square. And during the covid rstrictions, we were only allowed to have 73 people in the room, and we were spread out. Obviously, we follow all the protocols and restrictions, but I have to tell you that the 73 people that were in that room loved every minute of being together. 

So, I do know that as long as we all follow the guidelines, we should be able to try to bring some business back in some sense of normalcy, especially during this second wave, which, I think the numbers are out there that we are spiking a bit, but at the same time, we’re experiencing perhaps double the amount of daily covid infections, but half as many daily, I hate to put it this way, have as many deaths. Or I mean, my reports tell me that, that could be close to a 75% reduction, which is good news in a way. So, basically we are looking forward to getting back in person and connecting as much as we can. 

Joe Casabona: That, I mean, that number is very encouraging, right? Because it shows that we are getting a handle on the virus and things like that. So, I appreciate that number. 

I was also checking the Chester County numbers, recently. My wife’s a nurse, so I’m, you know, obviously nervous about her hospital getting overrun, but the….it seems like the cases in Chester County are not as big as I expected them to be, at least. So that’s also….

Cheryl Kuhn: Exactly. And that’s the good news. As long as we continue doing what we’re doing, we will come out of this together. And just to add to the businesses in Southern Chester County, some of these businesses are thriving. Your mortgage companies, your law firms, even landscapers.

I have three or four members that are landscapers and for whatever reason, they’re telling me they’re as busy as ever. And I was able to catch one of them. And his…it was kind of funny because he said, his customers are home during the day now, so they are asking him to do more than they would normally if they were at work. And the person came in and did their landscaping and left. They also have more new business coming in the door, again because customers are home and saying, “Gee, I want this front yard or backyard or a garden to look better.” So our landscapers are doing better. 

Accounting firms are doing much better. And there are other companies, small businesses as well that are actually thriving in this, which is hard to believe, but I’m happy to hear it. 

Liam Dempsey: Yeah. I’m happy to hear that too. I wonder if the accountancy firms are doing better because folks are much more interested in their numbers now than they might have been a year and a half ago.

Cheryl Kuhn: Yeah. They probably have more time to look at them which they would not have been able to do. And also because of the Caress Act and the PPP loan and the EIDL loan, they need much more help. Much more technical support than they would need in the past about how to handle those loans, how to handle those grants, especially the PPP grant. Everything that you’re supposed to compile and send back in to substantiate the reasons that you received the money. 

Liam Dempsey: Oh, that’s interesting. That’s very, very interesting. 

Cheryl Kuhn: Mm-hmm.

Liam Dempsey: You talked about the different sectors in your corner of Chester County, and I wanna talk a little bit about the restaurant and hospitality sector.

We know that that sector across the country, but certainly no different here in Chester County, has really been hit hard. And while the medical community seems to have a much better understanding of how to treat covid-19, we’re still seeing infections rise. And winter is, as we were looking at our windows this morning, is not far away in Southeast Pennsylvania. What are the restaurant owners and the hospitality sector leaders in your corner of the county? What are they thinking about winter? How are they preparing? What are their concerns and what are their hopes? 

Cheryl Kuhn: Hmm. That’s a very challenging question, and a very good one. I have to say from the beginning that the situation is not good for the restaurants. It is not good for the event spaces like your public golf courses that have a restaurant and event space, they are struggling terribly. I mean, I remember back when we were all deemed non-essential or non-life sustaining businesses,  we were told that we had to shut down. Unfortunately, a lot of the big box retailers remained open.

I remember when the farmers, we have farming is the number one industry in Southern Chester County, and that includes mushroom growers. They had to destroy crops and livestock because they couldn’t sell their product to closed restaurants just to throw this out there. And nothing to do with restaurants, but we have to remember the real realtors who could not sell homes, contractors who had jobs shut down, gyms, hair salons, liked the restaurants, had to wait until the end of June to finally be able to be open at 25%. 

So, to go back to the restaurants, I visit our two main street areas, Kennet, which has a main street organization and a main street thriving Main Street community and Oxford, which also has a thriving Main Street community. And I’m familiar with those restaurant owners, and they’re concerned, they’re very concerned about how they will handle winter,how they will handle when their customers can no longer sit outside. You have a couple of restaurants in Kennet that have already purchased tents and they have heaters and tables and chairs. These are all expenses that they did not realize they would have to handle and they’re still concerned. 

I was at a restaurant in Kennett a couple of weeks ago with my husband. It’s LaVar, which is an Italian restaurant, and the owner was there and we were talking a little bit and, he’s very concerned. He said, for now it’s all right. But this is October, January, December, January when it’s freezing cold and sleeting and he can only have 20% of his capacity indoors to serve, how is he going to do that? So the situation is very difficult, and not one that they’re looking forward to handling. 

So we, our chamber of commerce, I just completed writing the copy for a campaign that we’re going to have for them to support the restaurants as much as possible. And we’re gonna launch that campaign starting Monday where we are going to feature a restaurant. At least we’re probably gonna feature four a week and speak to the owner and have the owner tell us why it’s unique, why they have a unique restaurant, why people should patronize their establishment. And then we’re going to wrap it around a support local, love local for the holidays theme, and we’re hoping that can at least get people to continue to patronize locally.

Joe Casabona: That sounds fantastic. Really, goodluck with that campaign because I know that, you know, we’ve been talking to businesses around the area and we know that restaurants really are having a hard time. Again, trying, you know, bringing a little bit of optimism into it, we, my wife and I ate out to a few restaurants indoors and, I know, you know, perhaps capacity is going to be a big issue in the winter, but,  as far as like seeing, like concern and safety for patrons, I don’t think we’ve seen any, at least big spikes,  you know, due to a lack of safety precautions, I guess. It’s, you know, we were indoors for one in a heavily trafficked area, and we still felt pretty comfortable with the way the restaurant handled everything.

Cheryl Kuhn: Yeah, I mean, I visited not as a customer, I visit them from the Chamber of Commerce and I’m watching what they do, and we know each other, we know one another. So if I see something that I think they should pay attention to, I share it with them. But I have to say that the majority of restaurants I’m walking in and out of are doing everything they can. 

And that also leads me to share that our chamber of commerce was invited to serve on the business task force for the county, the county commissioners. And one of the, I guess you would call it a subcommittee, is a restaurant subcommittee that a gentleman who is the former owner of the DilworthTown Inn is donating his time to visit as many restaurants in Chester County, Delaware County and Lancaster County as possible.

And what he does is he’ll meet with them and he shares with them the guidelines that they are supposed to follow. The specific guidelines. He gives ’em a folder that’s full of information. He sits down with them, he gives them his card and he watches, he looks around the restaurant or the establishment and will say, these are the things you need to do. You wanna be sure that if someone from the commonwealth comes down to inspect, you want to be sure that you’re doing everything you can so you all stay open. 

Liam Dempsey: That’s really a valuable and generous service that, that gentleman has kindly offered.

Cheryl Kuhn:  Mm-hmm. 

Liam Dempsey: Cheryl, is that something that we should mention  in our show notes? Is our links where if restaurants want to get in touch with him and wanna figure out how to best manage that or get involved or take advantage of that kind offer, they can do so?

Cheryl Kuhn: Yeah. I would probably say that if they could reach out to me and then I will directly connect them with him via an email,

Liam Dempsey: Perfect. Perfect. Perfect. 

Cheryl Kuhn: Yeah. that would be…

Liam Dempsey: Yeah. I’m not looking to overwhelm anybody, but…

Cheryl Kuhn: No, no, that’s fine. I have no problem if they reach out to me at all. I do not mind at all. As a matter of fact, one of our member Hartefeld National Golf Club, which is where we held our fall luncheon, she was not on their mailing list. And when she and I met about the event that we held in October, I connected her with him and she had now has him as a resource. So, I know he’s available and I’m happy to do that. Very… 

Liam Dempsey: Oh, that’s great. Thank you, Cheryl! I want to ask you another question. 

Cheryl Kuhn: Mm-hmm.

Liam Dempsey: About really specifically how your Chamber of Commerce has pivoted and managed and responded to covid-19. We typically think of chambers of Commerce as hubs of information, also networking as building links between government and business communities, and the wider community in which the Chamber operates. Talk us through what the Southern Chester County Chamber of Commerce has done to continue to provide services and maintain relevance for the community around you.

Cheryl Kuhn: Sure. So, wow! That’s a very good question as well. I have to go back to mid-March when I’m sitting in my office with one other full-time person and one part-time person. And the three of us sat down and I said, so we are now, we will now be working remotely. We had to lay off the part-time person. But the other person and I have remained full-time and I guess at this stage of my career and almost 10 years here, I knew from the beginning this was not a two week or a one month situation. We’re a member organization. Businesses pay dues. They rely on us for many things. 

So I would say that from the beginning, our chamber has led the way in our region. We quickly realized that this crisis was not going to end, as I said in a couple of weeks or even in a month. And so I reached out to the US Chamber of Commerce in Washington and the PA Chamber of Business and Industry in Harrisburg and partnered with them and was on their radar from the beginning to bring critical support, resources and information to our members and the business community. 

At that point, I no longer restricted our communications simply to members and my small prospect list. It was to everyone. We worked alongside federal state and local elected officials from the beginning so that the governor’s office and the White House heard us, and so that we had a voice. I feel very strongly that chambers of commerce represent well. Let’s see. There are nine chambers of commerce in Chester County. If you look at the nine of us and pull us together, we represent more than 5,000 businesses in the county. That is a strong voice, and I wanted us to take advantage of that. So we fielded countless questions from individuals and businesses. We provided leadership and support to businesses and individuals. We offered solutions for every challenge that faced our communities by offering informative webinars. We hosted town halls, we hosted meetings, and we continued to network and connect our members virtually. 

We were invited to participate, as I said, on the County Commissioner’s Business Task force, which ultimately brought Restore Chester County to all who needed it. And there is a website with an incredible amount of information that is [restorechestercounty.org]. We partnered with local Main Street organizations, historic Kennett Square and Kennett Oxford, main Street and Oxford. We offered our resources and our opportunities to their members. And we continue to, we are continuing to do all of those things.

But I also have to say that I ask myself, what is the next step? There’s, it seems like there’s always a next step as we are slowly entering a restore and renewal phase. I think our path forward begins to clear, but with the onset of the holidays and the flu season, we’ve kind of slowed down a little bit. But I consider that a challenge that we will overcome and we are still here for everyone the same way that we were before. We’re here to help guide businesses. We help assist our employees with whatever they need, and we offer our support. That is what we have become in addition to doing what we have always done. And I see us as being a different organization because of this going forward.

Joe Casabona: That’s really fantastic. And I think it’s really important, right? Because as a business owner here in Chester County, sometimes I find it hard to find information. And luckily this podcast has provided me personally with a lot of great resources. 

As a web developer, I’m generally curious ’cause I know a lot of restaurants ended up moving up, moving online, and things like that. Was there a set of maybe frequently asked questions you got from businesses? And I know I’m putting you on the spot a little bit here, but were there like recurring themes that were coming up,  as you put out more resources and reached out to businesses in the area? 

Cheryl Kuhn: Yeah. So, no. That’s fine. There were, and I would say the first thing that goes through my mind is yes, there were, and those FAQs changed. They probably changed every few weeks as we muddled our way through this. Their needs changed and their questions changed. But there was always, it seemed like there was always a theme from the very beginning. 

I think in the very beginning, people were in shock. I really do, because we didn’t receive many questions. It probably took 30 days before I started receiving questions and those questions back then had to do with the CARES Act. They had to do with the federal side, they had to do with unemployment, and then the EIDL loan, I would say that that took precedence for a little while. And then PPP loan came up and that took precedence for a long while.

And then we were adjusting what we were doing to accommodate the businesses that were closed or that were open part-time. So we had an open for business list and we had that list available electronically. And on our website we had a tip jar. We started a tip jar to assist those servers and workers in salons and restaurants who, and pubs that were no longer working to give that favorite server a tip.

We held a community caravan that I organized in three weeks that we had 26 cars that met in Oxford and we drove through Oxford. We had, we were escorted by police and fire truck. We had a gentleman who serves on one of our committees in his jeep with a Bluetooth wireless speaker attached to his hood playing music. We parked in the parking garage in Oxford and probably 35 to 40 people, walked in and out of restaurants, shops, spent money, and talked to all of the retailers in Oxford. And that went over extremely well.

So we were doing all of these things because of the questions we were being asked. So it goes back to  the types of things that were coming to us and how we were able to support them.

Liam Dempsey: Cheryl, there was a hesitancy for businesses to come to you for questions isn’t really surprising. And based on what Joe and I see here, you know, we’ve heard a lot in the early days, businesses weren’t sure, is this a one week thing? Is this a two week thing? Is this a month thing? 

Cheryl Kuhn: Mm-hmm.

Liam Dempsey: And then as he said about 30 days out when everybody really and truly understood. This is gonna be months we need to do stuff. It’s so great that your organization responded in such a comprehensive way. Certainly, we hear on our show that IT businesses have their own preferred methods of communication. And you needed to be able to serve them when it was right for them to get the information that they needed, right?

Cheryl Kuhn: Mm-hmm.

Liam Dempsey: So that’s fantastic. And I love all the different ways that you were able to serve your community. If folks are interested in learning more about your organization and hearing about membership and how they might get involved and support, get support from you, where can they find you online? Where they can find your organization online? 

Cheryl Kuhn: Sure. So that’s easy. It’s, [www.scccc.com]. That’s four Cs, not three, four.com.  Southern Chester County Chamber of Commerce. They can also call our office. I and I’m available practically 24/7. so I’m happy to help anyone who’s interested in learning more.

We have a networking event tomorrow in person. I’m excited. We have close to 30 people registered. It’ll be at the Gables at Chads Ford. So if they’re interested in connecting in person, we hold that event every month. 

Joe Casabona: Fantastic. I will link to that and everything we talked about over at the show notes at [startlocal.co].

Cheryl, thank you so much for taking the time to talk to us today. We really appreciate it. 

Cheryl Kuhn: Absolutely. Thank you for having me. You’ve been wonderful to meet you both and I wish you all the success in the world. And I hope to see you again. 

Liam Dempsey: Thanks. Thanks so much, Cheryl. What a pleasure to spend time with you.

Cheryl Kuhn: Yeah. Have a great day. You too. 

Joe Casabona: All right. Thanks, everybody for listening, and until next time, stay safe out there.

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