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“Stick to your knitting.”
That was the advice Vienna Business Association (VBA) board chairman Jeff Bollettino gave members Feb. 12, telling them to focus steadfastly on their core objectives so as to survive the public-health crisis and thrive in the future.
“Despite the pandemic, VBA continues to be strong and vibrant and useful to our members, and a force for good in the community,” Bollettino said during the annual “State of the VBA Union” and board installation, held “virtually” this year.
The pandemic has underscored the importance of small enterprises, Bollettino said.
“Small businesses are the places where people gather,” he said. “They define the character of the community. Losing small businesses can take the flavor out of what makes a community attractive.”
Those small companies had to shift course drastically last year to survive the pandemic, Bollettino said. In addition to securing the safety of their customers and workers, companies invested in technology and adapted their labor practices, business models and staffing systems to the new circumstances, he said. Doing so entailed paying more for disinfectants and cleaning supplies, the supply of which sometimes was in doubt.
“Small-business owners are at the pointy tip of the spear in mitigating the virus’ spread and keeping people safe,” Bollettino said.
The 245-member VBA also has had to overcome stress, constant change and innovation pressures to survive the current crisis, Bollettino said. The organization suffered a major financial hit after the pandemic forced the cancellation of its major annual fund-raising event, Oktoberfest, but benefited by gaining a major new sponsor, Navy Federal Credit Union, he said.
VBA leaders managed the association’s costs carefully, showed flexibility with members regarding dues payments, and continued marketing and member-recruitment efforts. VBA welcomed 57 new members last year, despite the pandemic, said Executive Director Peggy James.
The association put a holiday shopping guide on its Website, providing a COVID-19 resources page, worked with the town government on “road to recovery” Webinars and started the “Vienna VA Business News” group on Facebook. VBA also undertook several pandemic-related initiatives, including:
• Working with member business Caffè Amouri to hold the “Feeding Families 5K,” which raised more than $10,000, supported area restaurants and fed 368 families.
• Donating beach balls for the town of Vienna’s “July 4th in a Box” packages.
• Co-hosting the town’s three-hour-long “Halloween Wave Parade,” which drove all over Vienna in lieu of the traditional parade on Maple Avenue.
• Giving $4,000 in grants from the VBA Foundation to charities serving COVID-related needs.
• Working with Vienna VA Foodies to support restaurants and help food-insecure people. The association also gave the food group’s organizer, Lydia Russo, the first-ever VBA Corporate Responsibility Award.
Bollettino drew attention to the efforts of each of VBA’s committees, which focus on everything from nuts-and-bolts activities such as membership, marketing and economic development to philosophical initiatives such as social responsibility and sustainable “green” practices.
Several Vienna Town Council members took part in the virtual event. Mayor Linda Colbert marveled at the creativity and adaptability shown by local businesses during the pandemic and said the town was endeavoring to help those companies survive. She also offered to give shout-outs to local businesses during her weekly video updates.
Vienna officials will take the business community into account when rewriting the town’s zoning code and the Council likely will vote in March to extend modified regulations for outdoor activities (such as dining) through September, the mayor said.
The town in late 2019 hired an economic-development manager, Natalie Monkou, and recently has commissioned a marketing study to aid local companies, Colbert said.
“No one will be left out,” she said. “We want you to feel the love, feel the marketing.”
Council member Steve Potter said he admired the business owners’ camaraderie and willingness to help each other.
“You are an economic engine and you’re deeply valued,” he said.