For the past six weeks, we have been largely hunkered down, wondering when it will be safe to come back out to our beloved Magnificent Mile district and restart our business engines, not to mention lives lived outside our homes. While the Governor and Mayor have indicated that we will have more sheltering in place to come, it looks as if a smart, slow and strategic opening of Chicago and Illinois are on the horizon. What does that mean?
First, we must assure our visitors, customers and clients that safety is our Number 1 priority. That means thinking through personal protective equipment for your employees and customers, social distancing, food and beverage protocols, cashless payments, timed entries, sanitation and cleaning procedures, and communications and marketing messages that clearly tell people what changes you have made and what is still the same: your commitment to top-notch service, quality and experience.
Second, we need to market locally and regionally. Far-flung and international visitors are not returning anytime soon, but we do have a local and regional market that will be itching for a getaway, even if it’s a spontaneous night downtown on a Tuesday. Welcome Chicagoans, Illinoisans and those from our neighboring states to your venues.
Third, start preparing now. Put your staff on stand-by or train new team members on the latest protocols. Order face masks (and ask yourself, will they be branded? Fair Trade?). Plan your business hours and schedule employees so they are staggered. Update your website so the first thing people see is how you are taking care of them, the customer.
Fourth, anticipate that there may be a resurgence of the virus and we may have to pull back or close again. Have a plan for retracting and communicating with your team and customers if that is the case. Optimistic views are that we could have a treatment in 3 months and a vaccine in 6 months. Other views are that this virus may be a threat for the next 24 months and that much of what we are doing now will become standard operating procedure in our “new normal.”
Whatever the case, know that we are interfacing with the City of Chicago, Choose Chicago, World Business Chicago and other industry leaders on a daily basis to help coordinate our re-open, with both an eye to helpful checklists for businesses to use and a cooperative marketing campaign. I’d like to thank our Board members, Holly Agra with Chicago’s First Lady, Nicole Benolken with 360 Chicago, John Curran with Big Bus, Nora Gainer with the Art Institute of Chicago, and Rick Simon with United Services for sharing their insights and resources, so we can in turn be a resource for our wider membership and city-wide partners.
In the meantime, we have posted additional guidance on the CARES Act to our Association’s COVID-19 resource page. While we are grateful for any financial relief for our member businesses via the Payment Protection Plan and otherwise, and to our partners at BMO for facilitating these loans, we are well-aware of the federal legislation’s shortcomings and appreciate additional funding from the federal government for the existing PPP and SBA programs.
I sent a letter two weeks ago to the Department of the Treasury, urging Sec. Steven Mnuchin and our U.S. Senators and Congressional representatives to include additional, direct emergency support in the next coronavirus aid package for 501(c)4 and 501(c)6 organizations, like The Magnificent Mile Association.
The letter was co-signed by the Chicago Loop Alliance, Wicker Park Bucktown Chamber, Little Village - 26th Street Area Chamber, Chicago Chinatown Chamber of Commerce, Southeast Chicago Chamber of Commerce, Lincoln Square Ravenswood Chamber, Lakeview East Chamber, Lakeview Chamber, and Downtown Evanston. Across the city, state and country, chambers of commerce and associations will need funding if they are to continue promoting and supporting neighborhoods, downtowns and the businesses that power them.
You, our member – as a commercial property or local businesses in one of our nation’s premiere downtown districts – contribute to, on average, 13% of sales tax revenue, 17% of property tax revenue, and 38% of hotel tax revenue nationwide. I will make sure our voices are heard as we work towards a safe and sensible re-opening of Chicago’s businesses.
As always, write to me at President@TheMagnificentMile.com. Let me know what you’re doing to prepare to re-open and ways in which we can continue to support you.
President & CEO