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La Mesa businesses ‘EXPOsed’ after a year under cover

The La Mesa Chamber of Commerce Summer Bash held July 21 was the first in-person event the group has presented since August 2019. Chamber President and Chief Executive Officer Mary England said the Business Expo had organizers laughing behind the scenes as they opened boxes that had been in storage for a year.

“It certainly gives you a new appreciation of what we all did in the past on automatic pilot. We had to reacquaint ourselves with doing an event. It was exciting but we forgot how much work it was,” England said.

With over 40 vendors, the event venue was shifted to the El Cajon Marriott Courtyard ballroom late in the planning stages with “different dimensions and a different layout than first planned,” England said. The fact that the change was brought on by having so many interested vendors appears to be a sign that businesses are ready to transition from a strictly virtual approach to in-person growth.

Although the Chamber only sold table space to current members, public events like the Expo are “a step in the process” of all business owners reaching out to the public and learning how to interact with them in a recovering world, England said.

“It was an educational process, a refresher, they’re all struggling to promote their businesses. Events like the Expo are a step in that process and I find that the public is very understanding and supportive,” England said.

She believes businesses will have to inform the public on how to interact with them in order to realize success  in these first steps of reopening after so many months of a virtual life. The most prominent example, England said, are restaurants who now must balance online marketing with newly-acquired practices of online orders and multiple options for delivery or pickup, along with a return to in-person dining.

The pandemic forced culinarians to think of new ways to run a profitable business, England said, utilizing Ghost Kitchens, for example, shared kitchen space a business can use to create food for delivery-only.

“The creation of the ghost kitchen has been excellent for people in catering. It affords them the ability to do takeout foods without the expense of a brick and mortar location. I have a Chamber member who is with a ghost kitchen in Spring Valley, Cali Comfort BBQ. He reinvented himself big time,” England said.

Retail store owners are another group who are reinventing how to do business as the pandemic lifts, she said.

“I’m hopeful that anybody in retail who was forced to go online is excited and taking advantage of the fact that consumers can try on clothes and interact with people,” England said.

She thinks they too have the capacity for expanded sales by being able to solicit online sales as well as help customers in person. While these next few months might not drastically change things for large chain stores, she said, “the little retailers that have a personal connection with their regular customers can still sell online to anyone in the nation while growing a local business” and are secondarily supporting other locals by buying locally in turn.

However there were several booths at the Expo with representatives who see events like this as a first sign that life might be returning to a pre-pandemic approach, as not everyone could effectively modify their offerings for a virtual world.

East County Art Association Secretary Annette Cirillo, who had a spread of artwork on display, said the group is thrilled they can open the doors to their non-profit El Cajon gallery again, and is looking forward to judged art shows again where they can once again connect with artists and art lovers where they can see the pieces in person. The Expo was their first public foray in a year.

Although the $10 tickets for the Expo were only sold online, England said they were processing last-minute purchases up until the last minute, with 350 tickets purchased “before that last big push” and they ultimately did not turn anyone away.

“We wanted to accommodate everyone we could while being polite and respectful of their health situation and some people can’t take the COVID vaccine so we had many people in masks. We don’t know why someone is wearing a mask— maybe they have diabetes, or have a pacemaker, we’re in a new world and we’ll see some masks for quite awhile but I don’t think anyone was especially nervous,” England said.

In the event that any business owner had decided to withdraw, England said she would have refunded their money. Not one did.

La Mesa businesses ‘EXPOsed’ after a year under cover

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Source: East County Californian

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