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Metro East chambers of commerce urge governor to back off closures

Several Metro East chambers of commerce on Wednesday sent letters urging the governor to stand down from his decision to close inside use of bars and restaurants, among other things.

Letters were sent out from Edwardsville-Glen Carbon, O’Fallon-Shiloh, Greater Belleville, Troy/Maryville/St. Jacob/Marine Chamber of Commerce, among them. Here is an overview of the letters from each.

O’Fallon-Shiloh Chamber of Commerce

The O’Fallon-Shiloh Chamber of Commerce and the mayors of Shiloh and O’Fallon jointly directed a letter to Gov. JB Pritzker and director of the State Department of Public Health Dr. Ngozi Ezike.

“As one of the largest Chambers of Commerce in southwestern Illinois representing nearly 600 members, we feel it is imperative to express our concerns about the ability for all businesses, but particularly small businesses and restaurants, in continuing to withstand the restrictions placed upon them,” said the letter from O’Fallon-Shiloh Chamber of Commerce.

“Throughout the course of this pandemic, the food and beverage industry has been and continues to be forced to bear the brunt of the COVID response plan,” the letter said, pointing out that:

o Restaurants and bars have experienced loss of inventory and staff. This industry has been hit the hardest during COVID and many won’t recover.

o 115+ bars and restaurants employ approximately 2,750 employees whose salaries and benefits will not be infused back into the economy as a result of closed business. This is a lost revenue for the community of over $1M. This doesn’t include the millions of dollars in investments small business owners have made in the community to open these establishments.

o New restrictions make it nearly impossible for local fraternal organizations who provide necessary help to those in the community to function. Many residents and veterans need support from these groups to survive.

o Small locally owned restaurants and bars are severely limited, yet the fact that casinos can remain open is simply incomprehensible. Another shut down or restriction to the food and beverage industry will be unsustainable. Many will be forced to close causing a devasting economic ripple effect.

“We urge you to consider developing a separate set of criteria for business based on the size of their operations. For example, a locally owned pharmacy shouldn’t have the same rules imposed upon it as a national pharmacy chain. We believe a unique set of guidelines could be created to allow small businesses to operate safely and equitably.”

“Much of the relief funding didn’t get to the small businesses in our area who needed it the most. Because we reside and operate businesses in the zip code of 62269, we were not eligible for some of the funding while communities surrounding our zip code qualified for support. We urge you to expand the next round of Business Interruption Grants to help ALL small businesses survive.

Nursing homes and congregate care centers need to be separated from the area positivity rates as they are locked down for the most part and are not moving within the population of the region, the letter states.

“O’Fallon-Shiloh historically has had a lower COVID-19 positivity percentage than our overall region. We believe our businesses have followed the rules throughout the pandemic by practicing hand washing, wearing of face masks, and social distancing.

“We respectfully ask you to re-examine how the region is divided and look at opportunities not to punish communities who are meeting the thresholds.

“We are advocating on behalf of the small businesses we represent. They are suffering. Small business is the heart of America. Please lessen the restrictions on them. Without small business, our local economy may never recover.”

The letter was signed by Shiloh Mayor James Vermier, O’Fallon Mayor Herb Roach and Chamber President Cindy Helmkamp.

Edwardsville-Glen Carbon Chamber of Commerce

Here is a copy of a letter sent Wednesday from Edwardsville-Glen Carbon Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Desiree Bennyhoff.

Greater Belleville Chamber of Commerce

Here is a copy of a letter sent Wednesday to the governor by Wendy J. Pfeil, president and CEO of the Greater Belleville Chamber of Commerce.

Troy/Maryville/St. Jacob/Marine Chamber of Commerce

Here is a letter sent by Dawn Mushill, executive director of the Troy/Maryville/St. Jacob/Marine Chamber of Commerce.

Dear Governor Pritzker:

You can visit any small business in Illinois and know that they have, in some way, all been affected by COVID.  The Troy/Maryville/St. Jacob/Marine Chamber of Commerce has been committed to providing resources and assistance to those businesses since March.  We have seen the need for help in finding and applying for funding, walking through the MANY implemented changes with them and sometimes just being the shoulder to cry on.

These businesses have experienced a time that they have never experienced before and then on Wednesday, September 2, you implemented mitigation measures that closed inside service at restaurants and bars.  This is the second round of inside closures in our area for this industry.  How will they survive?  How will they pay their employees?  How will they feed their family?

Our local businesses have been impacted through loss of sales, employees being laid off and spoilage of products.  (The fact that you waited until 3:00 p.m. the day before the closures, when all along you knew it was going to happen, shows inconsideration for those businesses who ordered food and drink and also had staff scheduled.  You have to put yourself in their shoes and you should be be considerate.)

Our cities and villages have been negatively affected through loss of revenue to the community, loss of sales tax, loss of hotel/motel tax and insufficient resources to pass along to the businesses.  The local mayors have also been excluded from many conversations and the ability to provide input about their city/village.

With the new closures, the businesses are going to need additional funding, more than what has been offered so far.  The funding options need to happen now and should have been included with the mitigation announcement.  Most of the funding was given to areas closer to Chicago.  We are here, in southern Illinois, and can use the funding just as much as other areas.  The plan has to be bigger than just going back to Level 2.  If you look at the numbers, you can see that many of the positive cases are from prisons, nursing homes and assisted living organizations.  These individuals are not out in the community.  If those numbers were in a separate group, you would see that Region 4 is right where you need us to be.

We encourage you to visit the Troy/Maryville/St. Jacob/Marine Chamber of Commerce office and then we can take you on a tour of our area in our Chambermobile and let you meet some of our members who are really struggling.  I believe when making decisions that affect so many people, you have to involve those in the trenches.  We are in the trenches with our members and are looking out for their best interest.  My hope is that you and your staff will do the same.

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