Battlefords Chamber still navigating the challenges of the pandemic

The Battlefords Chamber of Commerce continues to deal with the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic.

After two months of holding meetings live at the Balych Mural Meeting Room, the board of directors were back to holding meetings on the ZOOM platform. This was in response to the recent spike in cases in the Battlefords and surrounding area.

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The province had announced its latest round of restrictions earlier in the day, and the prospect that even more of them would come soon loomed over the meeting.

COVID-19 was a familiar topic at the meeting.

Chief Operating Officer Linda Machniak, on the Chamber’s behalf, had been one of the 34 signatories in an open letter to Saskatchewan residents released last week, to voice “strong support for the targeted approach the Government of Saskatchewan has taken to address rising case counts in localized ‘hotspots,’ including new mandatory mask requirements.” The signatories included representatives of several Chamber and business groups in the province.

COVID-19 has also been prominent in the Battlefords Chamber’s own regular activities in contacting members for feedback. The Chamber had gone out and asked members how COVID-19 had impacted their businesses and a wide disparity was noted. Machniak noted some businesses were reporting record years while others were reporting, in Machniak’s words, “life sucks”.

“Basically, it really was either a not good story or a great story — there kind of was not a lot in the middle,” said Machniak. She did tell directors most of the businesses had reported things were actually improving, but it remained to be seen what the impact would be of the latest provincial measures.

A main topic of the meeting was Chamber events. The Chamber has been moving forward this fall with hosting events under the strict public health guidelines.

One of those was the most recent Battlefords Business Excellence Awards at the Capitol Annex, dubbed “BBEX Goes to the Movies”.

The actual BBEX attendance fell a little below the 142-person maximum that was allowed, with the attendees divided into four cinemas to watch the show live. There were about nine people in the lobby area where the show was produced. Attendance was still reduced compared to the previous pre-COVID show years.

The general feeling was that those in attendance at the BBEX had a good time and felt safe, and that the event was easier to organize compared to years when they would hold an awards banquet.

Instead of a banquet, attendees were given the option in the admission price of a pre-awards show meal at a local participating restaurant. A high percent of BBEX attendees took advantage of that option.

Directors felt good that the BBEX show included both the cinema and the restaurant/hospitality industry. “The fact that we supported two sets of businesses in the hospitality sector that really struggled this year - that was really a bonus in the whole process to me,” said Machniak.

In general, directors reported the event had been a hit, so much so there was a sentiment to potentially go with the same format again in 2021.

“I thought it was one of the most innovative things I’ve seen the chamber do,” was the comment from director Warren Williams. It also “highlighted very well the resilience of our community — I thought it was outstanding.”

Chamber vice-chair Melanie Roberts reported there was plenty of enthusiasm during the show by those in the audience with people cheering on the awards nominees. “We were clapping and cheering people on in our theatre,” said Roberts.

Looking ahead, the Chamber had a decision to make on whether to still go ahead with their final scheduled event of the year, that being Chamber on Tap on Dec. 3.

The events have been held this fall at the Porta Bella restaurant under a provincially-mandated maximum of 30 people, but the uncertainty on whether the province would allow restaurants to stay open was a concern the directors.

In the end the decision was to continue to go ahead with it, for now, given that public spaces including restaurants were still allowed open.

That is still subject to change if new provincial restrictions come in. In that case, there are other options available to the Chamber including staging the event virtually on the ZOOM platform.

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