On March 15th, Mecklenburg County began restricting business through a “Stay at Home” order which was quickly reinforced by N.C. Governor Cooper through a statewide lock down on non-essential business, travel, and gatherings. While, we are now in Phase II of that order, and many businesses are now operating, there are still significant restrictions being placed on restaurants and retail. Not to mention the fitness firms, gyms, bars, and entertainment venues which are still prevented from opening their doors!

The Chamber has begun to offer seminars and other programming again with a combination of virtual and in person (not to exceed 10). We had scheduled our first business mixer which would have been held tomorrow afternoon at Boatyard Lake Norman. As restaurants can accommodate patrons up to half their capacity, we were going to have an AfterHours limiting it to 75 people (roughly a quarter of the restaurant’s capacity), require face mask, and have social distancing in place. Ironically, we chose Boatyard because it could host most of the event outdoors!

Chamber members were very excited with the possibility of getting together again and we quickly began to receive RSVP’s which were mandatory.  However, Mecklenburg County officials, deemed that gathering not in compliance with the Phase II restriction. Pressure from county officials, and calls from the media, made it an easy decision for us to postpone the event. The Lake Norman Chamber is, and should be, an example for businesses to follow, and if there is any question as to whether the gathering is within code or not, we will err on the side of caution.

That said, I struggle personally that the “First Amendment Right” – the right of people to peaceably assemble – is being trampled on by government.  Were the same 75 people simply to walk into the restaurant, or any restaurant that allows that capacity – they can do so. But not in an organized gathering of the Chamber. Had we stated we were gathering for a “Protest” to “Defund the Police,” I am quite confident our assembly would have been welcome and promoted. We can gather to talk about dissent, but we cannot gather to promote commerce or share best business practices.  That is a real shame.

Rarely a day goes by that I do not hear from struggling business owners, who have spent their last reserves, or leveraged their life’s savings, just to keep their business afloat through these challenging times.  I am much more concerned about these small business owners, our restraunteers, and hotel owners than I am about a mixer.  There will be many, many business mixers down the road.  But we may very well lose these businesses.

While the decision we have made to postpone an event is disappointing, it makes me that much more determined to see that this Chamber of Commerce is providing the tools and resources you need to weather this storm.  Over the next few weeks, we are going to dramatically increase the number of seminars and programs that we will offer in person and virtually. If you are one of those struggling business owners – please call or come see me and let’s see how we can help you.