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The East Haven Chamber of Commerce participated in the East haven Proud Parade on April 11. (Photo by Jennifer Higham Photography )
As East Haven and surrounding communities strive to keep residents safe during the COVID-19 crisis, the business community is taking part in the efforts, even as businesses large and small are facing their own crises.
“We want to let our community know we’re there for them,” said East Haven Chamber of Commerce President Jennifer Higham. “When something like this comes up, this town comes together like nothing you’ve ever seen. We’re East Haven Proud, East Haven Strong, and that’s what it’s all about.”
The chamber has shared the town’s list of open takeout restaurants to its Facebook page, as well as other businesses’ specials or hours. Higham has also reached out individually to each member of the chamber, not only to check in, but to see if the chamber could offer any support or resources during this time. She noted that she heard back from about 80 percent of members.
“The response was pretty overwhelming and pretty emotional,” said Higham. “Our small businesses are trying to keep up, do what we can, and trying to get creative. They want to get the word out that they’re doing things and to make sure their voices heard and we’re here to help.”
While restaurants have had the option to remain open for takeout, other small businesses were forced to close or to adapt to changing circumstances. Flowers by Lisa has closed its shop to walk-in customers, but it is still fulfilling orders for deliveries and arrangements for funerals.
“We’re not having people come in the store, which is affecting us,” said shop owner Lisa Bonnanzio. “Orders are changing, too. We are still doing funeral arrangements, but it’s limited now because they’re only doing mourning services. Product is also getting harder and harder to come by.”
Bonnanzio noted that many of the wholesalers have closed down and it is getting more difficult to get product from others due to shipping limitations. Because of the season, there are no local options for procuring the products she needs, making the future uncertain.
“I don’t know what Mother’s Day will look like. A lot of [flowers come] by air and that’s a problem so we’re between a rock and a hard place as far as expediting orders,” said Bonnanzio. “I’m also very particular about product and I want that product to be fresh.”
Though she is trying to keep her website updated with available flowers, she does note as a disclosure that if there are shortages, the order will be fulfilled with a designer’s choice. She has also been sure not to let any product go to waste, using unordered flowers for arrangements to be sent to nursing homes.
“For the most part, as long as they can get nice, fresh flowers, they’re happy,” said Bonnanzio. “With everything going on, flowers are important to just brighten up someone’s day. We delivered to some of the local nursing home staffs because we wanted to do something nice and put a smile on someone’s face.”
Along with so many local businesses, the East Haven Chamber of Commerce is feeling the impact of COVID-19. With social distancing in effect, many of the chamber’s largest events, which were scheduled over the next few months, are in limbo. With in-person gatherings off the table, the chamber has gone even more virtual to continue to serve its members and the community.
“Luckily we were virtual to begin with so we’ve been doing even more like virtual Business After Hours with information for businesses,” said Higham. “We’re talking about putting together a virtual happy hour to do something fun and still having the networking aspect so we can talk about what’s going on and how small businesses are doing.”
Higham notes that the sessions are open to the public and the schedule of webinars is posted on the chamber’s website at www.easthavenchamber.com and also announced on the chamber’s Facebook page.
State Representative Joe Zullo (R-99) recently hosted a presentation about small business loans available and there are upcoming talks scheduled with Eric Lopkin from Empower Business Connections.
“Eric Lopkin is going to host weekly discussions and anyone in the community is welcome,” said Higham. “There are a lot of different businesses sharing information on video and conference calls and we’ll post those, too.”
In addition to connecting in the virtual groups and sharing information for businesses and from businesses on the chamber’s Facebook page, Higham is continuing to build connections with chamber members and the community.
The chamber recently participated in the town’s motorcade with its mascot, Leo the Lobster, waving from the back of a truck. Higham, who owns Jennifer Higham Photography, has also spent time walking around town (from a responsible social distance) and photographing some of the positive scenes she has encountered, including chalk messages.
Ways to Help
Higham noted that even those on a budget can help local businesses during this time. She suggested that customers can share a business’s social media post, write a positive review, or even send an email.
“Just say, ‘I’m thinking of you,’ especially if you frequent that business—let them know you’ll be back when they’re back,” said Higham. “Social media is huge right now because everyone is in their house on their phone or computer so just getting their name out there is great, too. You can get takeout from local restaurants—there are so many that are putting together these fabulous family packages.”
Bistro Mediterranean is one of many local restaurants that has made adjustments to adapt to this time. The restaurant, open 3 to 8 p.m. seven days a week, now offers curbside pickup, delivery, and a prix-fixe menu of $40 for two or $80 for four people. There will also be specials for Mother’s Day.
“We’re trying to survive and doing takeout, deliveries, and a family menu,” said Leo Carreno of Bistro Mediterranean. “From all of us at Bistro, we want to thank the community for supporting us and we hope everyone stays healthy and safe.”
Jenn McCulloch is the Correspondent for Zip06. Email Jenn at .