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Local business leaders examine pandemic's impact

Updated: Aug 5

Editor’s Note — Today Magazine has reached out to several Chamber of Commerce executive directors and other business leaders for their perspective on COVID-19's impact on local commerce — their thoughts are below.


These email interviews occurred soon after the state closed nonessential businesses and mandated social-distancing measures. Now, of course, the state is reopening businesses — but when these Chamber directors answered this Q&A, their responses to question #3 were not dated but were rather relevant and timely.


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Kellee Abramczyk

President — Canton Main Street Inc.

• America The Beautiful Country Store • Collinsville • 860-421-5006

• Co-owners — Kellee Abramczyk and Greg Wasoka


Today Magazine: Question #1 — In terms of societal impact that you've seen in your lifetime, what is this coronavirus crisis most comparable to?

• Abramczyk — I have nothing to compare this to. I think this is why many people didn't take the virus seriously in March. We thought we were invincible. 


Today Magazine: Question #2 — Statistics indicate that most people who contract COVID-19 have only mild symptoms, with life-threatening cases a small percentage — given this, is a plausible mitigation approach to recommend that at-risk populations (such as the elderly) self-quarantine until a vaccine is available while the rest of society operates more normally, with businesses and perhaps schools open?

• Abramczyk — When almost 800 people die in one day in NY from COVID-19, I don't consider that a small percentage. That is a scary number to me. We may never return to what we considered a normal life. This virus is so easily transmittable that I am afraid when we try to get back to normal, we will see a spike again. I really don't have an answer for this question. How do you keep the at-risk population safe when we all continue to spread it? How long can a person stay quarantined without being emotionally effected?


Today Magazine: Question #3 — If state governments and the federal government continue to ban large gatherings, but reopen small businesses with social distancing guidelines, would this be a better solution given the disabling nature of Connecticut's current executive order that has closed "non-essential businesses"?

• Abramczyk — As a small business owner, I want to get back to work as soon as possible, but not at the risk of my employees and customers.


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Gary Miller


Editor’s Note While Miller is the Executive Director of the Canton Chamber of Commerce, he added this caveat before replying to this Q&A: “Please don’t attribute any of this as me speaking for the Canton Chamber of Commerce. These are my thoughts alone.”


Today Magazine: Question #1 — In terms of societal impact that you've seen in your lifetime, what is this coronavirus crisis most comparable to?

• Miller — I can’t recall any time in my life undergoing a period of isolation of this magnitude. I grew up during the polio scares, but the widespread isolation and quarantine wasn’t done. The cancellation of graduations, reunions, family trips, weddings and all the other aspects of life that we have planned for over the past year or so will probably be the worst memory of the crisis for most people.


I think the impact on societal norms will be long-lasting. The experience of working from home and homeschooling will likely have more positive outcomes than negative, especially today, once the medical precaution restrictions are lifted. The lack of socialization over a long period of time will affect our relationship with fellow workers and school friends long-term. I hope we will appreciate these relationships more going forward.


Today Magazine: Question #2 — Statistics indicate that most people who contract COVID-19 have only mild symptoms, with life-threatening cases a small percentage — given this, is a plausible mitigation approach to recommend that at-risk populations (such as the elderly) self-quarantine until a vaccine is available while the rest of society operates more normally, with businesses and perhaps schools open?

Miller — If we had had access to widespread testing early on, then we would have known who could continue or return to work. The draconian closure of businesses would have been less necessary. In the reality of the nation’s tardy reaction to a worldwide crisis, our governor and those in surrounding states were wise to react early and shut down nonessential businesses, schools and other gathering points.


I have no idea what “normal” will be in the future. I agree with Dr. Fauci that we may never see pre-coronavirus “normal” again. The country’s shameful lack of testing and medical preparedness will take years to correct. (November 3rd may put some light at the end of the tunnel.) I think it would be unwise to return to work or school prematurely. Even when we have a viable vaccine or proven treatment options, business and school will have a slow recovery.


Today Magazine: Question #3 — If state governments and the federal government continue to ban large gatherings, but reopen small businesses with social distancing guidelines, would this be a better solution given the disabling nature of Connecticut's current executive order that has closed "non-essential businesses"?

Miller — If I felt confident that people would faithfully observe social distancing, I would approve of expanding the list of businesses that could reopen, especially small businesses employing hourly and other workers that were hurt the most during the crisis.


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Lisa Bohman

Executive Director — Avon Chamber of Commerce


• Today Magazine: Question #3 If state governments and the federal government continue to ban large gatherings, but reopen small businesses with social distancing guidelines, would this be a better solution given the disabling nature of Connecticut's current executive order that has closed "non-essential businesses"?

• Bohman — Restarting the economy will be a much harder task than curtailing it, particularly because the situation we are currently in the midst of was not the result of a financial crisis or an assault on our nation, but was self-inflicted in order to protect the population and mitigate the strain on the health infrastructure from a new and virulent health threat.


I believe the answer to this question lies in finding that balance between effectively combating the virus and examining which sectors may be best positioned to get back to work; for the two are not mutually exclusive but inextricably intertwined.


And, the answers are probably going to look very different than what we may assume. A coherent transitional phased-in plan might be considered whereby states and/or nearby regions work together to carefully examine the loosening of social distancing measures.

But this conversation should be taking place with industry experts now, for if we cure the disease but impoverish the people in doing so, how much greater is the impact to humanity and how much less prepared are we to face the challenges ahead.


Editor’s Note — Bohman did not wish to answer Questions 1 and 2.


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Sarah Nielsen

Executive Director — Simsbury Main Street Partnership Inc.


Statement — I appreciate you doing an article on this and considering me. Unfortunately, as I also sit on public safety, I do not feel comfortable commenting on medical-type questions. What I will say is that this is an unprecedented time in our lives, and I am incredibly proud of our business community, which continues to step up and help people, even as they are struggling. Simsbury Main Street Partnership continues to actively work with our businesses to secure funding sources to keep them going, and has also coordinated a list of open/closed/modified businesses and restaurants and their services.


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Morgan Hilyard

Executive Director — Simsbury Chamber of Commerce


Statement — The Simsbury Chamber supports and represents a wide array of business industries and sizes, many of which have suffered devastating economic effects from COVID-19. There is an overwhelming amount of information and opinions regarding the current economic climate, as well as the health crisis currently. There is no way of truly knowing how severely this pandemic will affect businesses and the health of our community members until we are all through it. What we do know is this will pass and our society will be more aware and prepared for this type of emergency. We are developing methods of coping, becoming more resourceful, and discovering a new level of resiliency both as individuals and as a community. The Simsbury Chamber is focusing on providing our members with a platform to stay connected and support one another, which will be key in getting through this experience.


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