From struggle comes survival, and from fear comes hope

Note: This column appears in the June issue of Great Seal Living

As January 2020 dawned in Chillicothe and Ross County, things were different than prior years.

A decade’s worth of hard work paid off with a variety of sources across the state and region recognizing the turnaround in Ohio’s First Capital. It was a slow process toward success, but a southern Ohio hot-spot was reborn.

Chillicothe’s renaissance was in full swing, and we weren’t satisfied. The praise built. We wanted to continue our push toward a vibrant place to live, work, and play.

Then, the COVID-19 pandemic hit Chillicothe in early March. Physical distancing, closures, empty streets, and virtual meetings become the norm.

Among those to absorb the hardest blow was the business community. Many of those businesses hired employees as their sales grew, then had to lay them off as their doors closed or commerce slowed. Sluggish supply chains began to grind their assembly lines until they stopped. The entrepreneurs face uncertain futures as they’ve lost at least half of their revenue.

There is no question. The impact of the COVID-19 fear on the Ross County economy will take months, if not years, to overcome. Similar stories are occurring across Ohio and the nation. We’ve taken a step back from success and, instead, are focused on survival.

But, from struggle comes survival, and from fear comes hope, and our local business community has, once again, risen to the occasion.

One of the first emails I received after businesses closed was from a sole proprietor, Chris Powers, who has a successful Scentsy business – in fact, one of the most successful in the region. The email was concerned, wondering how her business could continue if people were out of work and couldn’t afford her products. We talked through some solutions.

Just a few days later, Chris contacted our offices and told us that she was using her time to make face masks for essential workers who needed them. She made 100 masks, then got another order, and another order, and another until she was tasked to make 400 masks.

Keep in mind: This was not a new business for her. She wasn’t getting paid for the masks. Her generosity was making them for the community in a time of need. Others soon followed, and the public also joined in. When she ran out of the items necessary to make the masks, she made afghans and blankets for nursing home residents.

But that story is not unique. Many of our businesses are serving, despite the circumstances:

  • Mile Tree Screen Printing and Hometown Threads served small businesses by creating t-shirts that not only promoted their fellow small businesses but also put money in their pockets by donating a portion of the sales directly back to the company. They also created shirts to help all of us show our unity despite the circumstances.
  • Local comedian Lori Graves and Tara Gillum of Steiner’s Speakeasy used their downtime to connect further with their community through Facebook Live. Tara’s drink tutorials and virtual happy hours give the feel of hanging out with your friends, while still complying with distancing. She also created a carryout system to serve up libations, while complying with stay-at-home orders. Lori’s “Ask the Sharon” events with her mother are bright spots in a tough time. She also crafted a weekly variety show that featured local musicians and her friends in comedy.
  • Businesses figured things out, too. Restaurants that didn’t offer delivery before looked at ways to create better carryout and delivery programs. If they couldn’t be open every day, they provided specials on specific days to keep the bond with their regulars healthy. Retailers who didn’t have online stores developed them or offered touch-free pick-up and delivery. Antique and resale shops offered items via social media.
  • And, of course, our churches stepped up to meet community needs. Centerpoint Church hosted a weekly food giveaway. When Easter-related events couldn’t bring people together, First Wesleyan Church of Chillicothe did a virtual Palm Sunday parade through the streets and offered single-serve communion cups for churchgoers to partake on Good Friday.

In short, Chillicothe may have slowed, but like water, it found a way to reach its true purpose. It’s the Chillicothe way.

One last thing: Many of our vocations slowed and even stopped, many others continued. Construction went on in the heart of downtown Chillicothe – the Fifty West Brewing Co. project and a few others might have slowed slightly, but they are still going forward. We’ll see them open soon.

Our goals are still ahead of us and within reach. You can delay Chillicothe’s forward momentum, but it won’t die. The best is yet to come.