Chamber wants ChesCo to reopen

Members of the Southern Chester County Chamber of Commerce are urging Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf to hold to a return-to-work reopening date for the county on Thursday, June 4. On May 8, Wolf extended his stay at home order through June 4 and the chamber wants Chester County back up and running no later than that date.

"It is time to reopen and allow our economy to begin the road to recovery in a safe and responsible manner. With the appropriate guidelines as set forth in your phased reopening plan, business owners are fully capable of observing best practices to protect the health of their employees, themselves, and their families," reads a letter co-authored by SCCCC President and CEO Cheryl Kuhn and Chamber Chairman of the Board James Turner.

They wrote the letter on May 19, the same day the governor vetoed three bills passed by the legislature. These bills would have allowed a handful of business types to return to some normalcy based on county guidelines. The vetoed bills included one that would have allowed counties to set their own mitigation standards for reopening in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. Another law would have authorized car dealers, garden centers, salons, barbershops, messenger and agent services, animal grooming services, and manufacturing operations to resume. The third bill he vetoed would have permitted legal services and real estate sales to resume. Wolf later modified his veto on that bill allowing for a resumption of real estate sales.

In the letter to the governor, Kuhn and Turner wrote: "These entrepreneurs, organizations, small business owners, and local leaders are ready, willing and able to promote safe and meaningful mitigation strategies that will protect workers while allowing them to get back to earning a living before it is too late. From where we sit, we clearly see that continued closure of our county will result in irreparable consequences that will worsen the plight for thousands of Chester County individuals and families."

The Southern Chester County Chamber of Commerce is one of nine such chambers in the county. Kuhn said in a telephone interview that each of them has engaged in some sort of campaign urging the governor to stick with the June 4 date and not move that date back further. She speculated what might happen otherwise, especially considering other counties have already told the governor they intend to open up despite his objections.

"I think all hell might break loose. With these other counties saying they're going to open up anyway, I think you're going to find businesses [here] opening up. No one has told me they will do that. I just think June 4 feels like the last straw," she said in the interview. "[The governor] needs to know that we're standing here waiting for this June 4. We're not just sitting here filing our nails saying, 'Well, you know if we don't open up on June 4, I get another couple of months of sitting home.' We're not doing that. No one is doing that in Chester County."

SCCCC members were asked to sign on to the letter and respond to the chamber by 5 p.m. on May 20. They intend to send the message to Wolf on May 21. Kuhn said 13 letters have been sent from other chambers. She also said there may be another letter sent to the governor with the names of businesses who missed signing on to the current one. Interested parties should contact Kuhn at ckuhn@scccc.com.

Kuhn's group has fewer than 500 members, and she has spoken to at least 200 of them during the shutdown. During that time, there has been what could be called a domino effect or a cascade of businesses suffering, with more possible.

About 10 percent of the Southern Chester County group are merchants or restaurateurs who have been shut down by the governor's order since March. Still, another 60 percent — whose businesses serve others — are hurting because their clients have been shut down. Some are continuing to help, and to bill clients but know they might not ever be paid if their clients go under, Kuhn said in the interview. "I'm on call after call after call with members and even non-members, businesses that need help. I'll help all of them. Gosh, they are struggling. Some are at the very end of being able to stay in business."

She's heard from many Southern Chester County business owners who told her they're moving out of state, taking their businesses with them to other states where they can work, Kuhn said. Some may be going even after the state reopens.

She and members of the chamber's Ambassadors' Committee have contacted every member asking how SCCCC can help file for, and negotiate through the myriad financial programs Congress has established. She said it's been confusing to the members who were already in shock and, figuratively, "ready to jump off a cliff."

Now the concern is what's going to happen on June 4. "Are we opening? What does that mean? Where do I stand? Am I going to make it to June 4?" she asked rhetorically.

Kuhn added that the letter is being sent to other chambers in the county to circulate it to their members. That means about 4,000 Chester County businesses could be either signing on to the SCCCC letter or sending their own. The southern chamber has already signed on to six letters from other groups, as well as sending seven of its own.

The chamber is also working on a task force established by the Chester County Commissioners to help businesses get back to as much normalcy as possible — with safety guidelines in place — once the governor moves Chester County from red to yellow on the perceived safety scale.

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About Rich Schwartzman

Rich Schwartzman has been reporting on events in the greater Chadds Ford area since September 2001 when he became the founding editor of The Chadds Ford Post. In April 2009 he became managing editor of ChaddsFordLive. He is also an award-winning photographer.

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