EXCELSIOR — Sarah Perkins leaned against a railing, taking in the view of Lake Minnetonka Saturday from downtown Excelsior.
“I love seeing the boats on the water again and can’t wait to be out there again, but I’d much rather see these streets filled with traffic and people,” she said while turning to glance at the nearly barren streets near her. “This just isn’t right.”
Business owners and customers alike are deeply concerned about the fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic that has derailed stores and changed customers’ purchasing habits.
“I try to do what I can to help out the businesses; the restaurants and bars, mostly, which have been hit so hard by this shutdown,” Nigel Market said during a brief interview on Water Street. “I can’t imagine what it has to be like to lay off so many people and be uncertain when or if your business will survive.
“I get concerned that people will get too used to not shopping or going out that a recovery will take a longer time to be realized,” he said.
Those types of concerns are discussed during the weekly Supporting Small Business During Uncertain Times online sessions hosted by the Excelsior-Lake Minnetonka Chamber of Commerce.
An average of 25 to 40 people from a variety of businesses, agencies and perspectives listen in and comment about a wide range of topics impacting the business community.
Last week, discussions focused around loans, economic support, landlord issues and Lake Minnetonka Business Grant interests.
“The meetings really depend on what’s changed, what’s new,” said chamber Executive Director Laura Hotvet. “The idea for these meetings came from the chamber just trying to figure out a good way to stay connected and support each other; educating each other on what is going on; things that are working or not during this difficult time.”
“Getting together on a regular basis to discuss things provides a sense of community,” she added. “We get a lot of questions answered and it provides a lot of valuable resources. It’s a good way for businesses to feel like they are not alone.”
A silver lining in the current situation is a greater sense of cooperation between businesses, and with citizens displaying authentic support for businesses, Hotvet said.
“There are wonderful community support stories; stories that have brought a lot of really good outcomes during these hard times,” she said. “Businesses are supporting each other and helping each other to pivot a little bit. Maybe they need help learning new strategies.”
“Those have been the positive byproducts of this awful thing that we are all going through,” Hotvet added. “Competition has melded into teamwork and cooperation. It’s been really fun to see people banding together and truly caring about each other.”
Other matters discussed at the April 8 session also included, in part: an Excelsior City Council resolution regarding the sale of alcohol along with take-out for restaurants; and possible refunds, rebates or credits for maintenance and parking impact fees.
The Lake Minnetonka Business Grant effort has reached 16 applicants, as of Friday, April 10, with funds distributed almost as quickly as modest grant funds are requested, Hotvet said.
“We (a five-member committee) evaluate the applications on a weekly basis, so it goes out immediately,” she said, adding that most amounts are in the $400 to $600 range. They are used to help bridge the gap for businesses that are awaiting loans or other financing. It’s designed to carry them through this gap that we are all in.”
Seed money came from a business that wanted to help support small businesses but didn’t know the best way, Hotvet said, adding: “It was really awesome and it has been a great way for the community to directly help businesses.”
Information, including applications and methods to donate, are available at the chamber’s website at www.excelsior-lakeminnetonkachamber.com.