The Village Foundation of Blowing Rock - Rock United Relief Fund
Business of the Year
Sponsored by Appalachian Regional Healthcare System
Foggy Rock / Sunny Rock
Blowing Rock Chamber of Commerce
It is my pleasure to present to you the 2020 Annual Report for the Blowing Rock Chamber of Commerce. No one needs reminding of the difficult and challenging year that 2020 became last March. Prior to mid-March, the Blowing Rock business community was on track for perhaps the best year ever. All indications from lodging, retail, restaurants as well as unemployment numbers, consumer spending, the stock market and other major economic indicators, Americans were all headed to a prosperity that included more people than ever.
The Chamber was poised to have a record year in terms of membership growth, event planning and the goals of the strategic plan. Of course, everyone remembers all too well when on March 13th we were all told to close our doors and go home. As a membership organization, we were able to find ways to maintain contact with members and continue most of our activities. Someone was here in the office every day to take care of Chamber business. The Chamber’s position was that we are essential to our member businesses and if you are open, we should be too. The Visitor Center however was unable to safely be open to serve visitors until June.
In the early days of the pandemic, the staff focused on providing guidance to members on the impacts of the virus to business as well as guiding members to grant and loan assistance opportunities. The Chamber in partnership with the Village Foundation established the Rock United Relief Fund and worked tirelessly to provide small bridge grants of up to $5,000 to businesses to pay rent or utilities or staff. Later, we pivoted to assisting members reopening their businesses with all the new COVID-19 safety guidance. The staff visited as many members as possible to answer questions regarding safely re-opening under government directives.
Once re-opened, a very unexpected phenomenon occurred; Blowing Rock, due to its location contiguous to magnificent open outdoor spaces became a place people felt safe to escape the urban environment and the impact of COVID-19.
Furthermore, urban dwellers tired of the civil unrest in the metro areas began to search for homes here. This produced a red-hot real estate market of remote workers in the region. With so many of the traditional attractions closed and long-standing events not being held, these people filled the Blue Ridge Parkway and the streets of the small towns in the region.
Along with the urban flight came new businesses. The Chamber welcomed 35 new members and helped celebrate 14 new businesses with ribbon cuttings and grand openings in 2020, a year we did not expect to see anyone willing to take the risk to open a new business. The Chamber now proudly serves 473 business members and 55 residential supporters.
The Chamber suffered in 2020 due to event cancellations. The Symphony by the Lake event is the Chamber’s primary fundraiser. This event was completely canceled after several attempts to modify the model. The loss of this event reduced revenue by $175,000.
Art in the Park which is the other major source of revenue for the Chamber was canceled in May and June but after a plan was presented to the Governor’s Office and NCDHHS, the event was granted permission to be held at 50% capacity under very rigid guidelines for July – October. This helped dilute the density of the crowds on Main Street as well as allowed artists a single opportunity to sell some art. Art in the Park lost $75,000 in revenue in 2020 due to these restrictions.
With the support of the Board of Directors, the Chamber was able to continue with creative social media messaging and other means to promote our members. Events such as Concert in the Park, Farmers Market, Holiday Stroll were all held in a COVID-19 responsible manner. Two Business After Hours were held in July and October. No risks were taken with the safety of the staff, the visitors, or vendors. We are blessed that there have not been any adverse reactions or COVID-19 illness tied to any of these events.
The Chamber as a 501(c)3 membership organization was not included in the first round of CARES Act PPP funding. We joined many other Chambers and Associations in advocating with our congressional delegation to get funding in Phase 2. This finally was granted long after all the other non-profits and for-profit businesses were given access to these much-needed funds. Unfortunately, this resulted in the loss of one full time employee.
For the year ending December 31, 2020 the Chamber posted revenues of $387,713, expenses of $377,041 with a net profit of $10,672. This was an amazing result considering the immense challenges presented. Unaudited financial statements are always available to members to review by appointment at the Chamber office.
Last, but not least, the Chamber was honored to receive the North and South Carolina Chamber of the Year Award for Chamber with memberships of less than 700 members by Carolina’s Association of Chamber of Commerce Executives. You may recall that we won this award in 2016. This is due to a huge effort from the small staff of three along with the support of the Board of Directors, Chamber Partners, and you, the Members.
The Chamber is grateful to all our members. We welcome your feedback and engagement. If you have any questions or suggestions, please feel free to reach out to anyone on the staff at any time. We wish a very prosperous year to you as we put 2020 behind us and move forward into better times ahead.