Business advocates encourage residents to keep supporting local stores, eateries, shops

Georgia Governor Brian Kemp, echoing the call of Centers for Disease Control (CDC) officials and Vice President Mike Pence, has called for public gatherings to be limited to 50 people or less, and local churches and organizations have been heeding that call.

Many congregations, including First Baptist Church and Emmanuel Baptist Church, canceled services last weekend and civic organizations are also postponing weekly meetings for the time being. Blackshear Rotary Club has canceled meetings for the remainder of the month at the recommendation of Rotary International leadership.

Local restaurants and small businesses are also starting to see the impact of coronavirus as the public begins to stay home, preparing their own meals and remaining indoors when possible.

Some noticed a decrease in business over the weekend, particularly on Sunday as a result of church services being canceled, says Wendy Puryear, co-owner of Huddle House and Surchero’s in Blackshear.

While they may remain open, restaurants are taking extra care to sanitize their dining rooms and prepare food as safely as possible.

“We have a specific staff person on the floor at all times just for clean up, sanitary reasons,” Puryear says.

They’ve removed table toppers, such as menus and other displays. Staff members sanitize each menu individually after each use, Puryear adds.

“We’re just day to day. We’re trying to serve the people and be as clean as possible,” she says. “We’re watching and being highly alert.”

Holly Mattox, PrimeSouth Bank manager of branch operations in Blackshear, says the banking industry is following the same cautious approach, but has not yet seen a reduction in activity at the bank.

Tellers who handle money are wearing gloves and bank employees are sanitizing surfaces on a regular basis throughout the day.

“We’re taking precautions to keep our staff and customers safe,” Mattox says. “We’re trying to limit contact as far as (physical) touch ... we’re just going to take it day by day.”

It’s early yet to calculate coronavirus’ effect on the local economy, but Better Hometown Manager Bethany Strickland is urging locals to take a proactive approach and still support hometown businesses when possible.

“We are all currently operating under new conditions and an uncertain economic climate. People will be shopping and dining out less and this will mean less money making its way back into local business owners pockets,” Strickland says. “Our community must push to think outside the box and to develop new initiatives and programs to support our local businesses.”

Strickland suggests shopping Pierce County stores online, on Facebook, and on Instagram when possible. Most local shops will ship or offer pick up/car-side delivery, she adds.

Visit Blackshear restaurants via drive-thru and utilize local pharmacies’ prescription delivery service.

“Blackshear small business owners and restaurateurs are both resilient and creative and that is one heck of a combo! But in order for them to survive weeks of little to zero cashflow, we must all make an effort to start local, shop local, and stay local,” Strickland says.

We will be fine, we always are!”

Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Angela Manders echoed Strickland’s support for Pierce County businesses, offering Chamber assistance in spreading the word about various remote services local businesses may be offering now.

“I encourage local businesses to find creative ways to engage customers, and I encourage consumers to take full advantage of online shopping and delivery services offered by our local businesses,” Manders says. “I feel confident Pierce County will bounce back from this downturn, but we must support each other.”