With COVID-19's effects on business throughout the state, there have been concerns how all of Wyoming's small businesses are faring especially during this holiday season. Wyoming Public Radio's Catherine Wheeler spoke with Sheridan County Chamber of Commerce CEO Dixie Johnson about how Sheridan businesses have adapted this year. Johnson began by describing how a local holiday tradition was affected.
Dixie Johnson: In our community, there has been a really big effort to encourage people to support and continue to support local businesses, especially with the challenging times that we find ourselves in. And this year was the 25th anniversary of our Christmas Stroll, which is typically an event that the chamber coordinates and it's held the Friday after Thanksgiving every year, and usually involves shutting streets down, and lots of people come out. And it's very festive. We have organizations and groups giving away hot chocolate, different things on the streets, the musicians. All that this year was a little different. Well, a lot different. When we started, early on, kind of planning, we knew that we were going to have to wait and see what happens with it, based on where we were with COVID. We were down about 10 percent in the number of businesses that participated but we felt that was really not bad at all, under the circumstances. And so we held a non event, the day after Thanksgiving, from 8am to 8pm. And really, the idea was to encourage people and motivate people, incentivize people to get out and shop and dine and support local businesses. And that was very, very successful this year.
Catherine Wheeler: And so how have businesses been doing overall?
DJ: They're doing okay. It kind of depends on the business and that kind of depends on maybe some of the adaptations that they have made. But we've had several of our businesses, retail businesses especially, starting to offer their products online over recent months. Back in the spring when COVID almost shut down everything, and did shut down several of our different businesses and industries, we started pulling together small groups, you know little think tanks, and we had a couple of retail groups that we were meeting with on a weekly basis. And they really started helping each other out. A lot of the businesses who already had an online presence, were helping other businesses develop an online presence and some of that was really nice to see.
CW: And what are some examples of how businesses have adapted?
DJ: We have a restaurant here in our community that in the summertime has opened up an outdoor patio, and everybody loves sitting on the deck. And with the restrictions and having to take seating out of the restaurant earlier on, and the fall weather on its way, that restaurant ended up kind of closing that outdoor decking area to expand seating. So they adjusted those to be able to still keep their doors open. So that was really cool to see. Like I said, several of our businesses have had shoppers that they've FaceTimed with. And so the shoppers can be on FaceTime, or some other kind of virtual platform, and somebody in the store can go around, and then the person on the other end can shop that way. We have one business that sets up appointments, and people can sign up for those nighttime shopping experiences.
CW: As the holiday shopping season comes to a close and we move into the historical slow season in Sheridan, is there anything you're preparing for, especially when the town's big winter rodeo has been cancelled, which has been a big boost for businesses in the slow season the last couple of years.
DJ: Yeah, that's a disappointment. But it's also understandable, because we want to make sure that we can keep our businesses open. It's hard because it's that balancing act. We want to offer local businesses, and we want them to be strong and vibrant, healthy. But we also don't want to have a large event where you're going to see an increase spreading COVID by bringing people together irresponsibly. So it's understandable. I think, looking forward to the future trying to remain optimistic is one of the things we're doing and a lot of our businesses are really doing. And they're really hopeful, we've got a couple more weeks, well, what,not even two weeks yet, before Christmas, we're just hopeful that the last couple of weeks, we see really strong support of our local businesses. Again, it's retail, but it's restaurants, it's our bars, it's our hospitality industry, it's everybody in our service industry. If we can continue to support those local businesses and, and help give them a little bit of a boost or a little bit of help to survive through the winter, that's going to be really, really important.