Despite still being in the midst of COVID-19 and the unpredictable outlook that the winter season could bring, towns in Shenandoah County are being optimistic.
Representatives from the county’s towns were asked to give updates about businesses and tourism-related ventures in their area during Tuesday’s Shenandoah County Tourism Council meeting, and many localities reported that even though there continues to be struggles they were “living through it,” as Edinburg Mayor Dan Harshman said.
Much of the optimism centered around the fact that outdoor events and activities have been successful and have been able to draw folks in and create revenue for businesses.
Strasburg Community Development Director Michelle Bixler said the visitors center in Strasburg has seen sales double, which also has to do with using new and local products.
Harshman said he’s seen much of the same, with more folks coming in and spending money in the Edinburg area.
“All in all, I think it’s better than we probably thought it was going to be,” he said.
New Market Events and Marketing Director Amber Smoot said both residents and business owners have been coming together to make sure things stay afloat, which creates a good sense of community.
“We haven’t lost any businesses through this whole thing,” she said. “For the businesses that were like, ‘Well, if this lasts past July, I don’t think I’m going to make it,’ things have just perked up and done well for them. Everybody’s trying to come together and make this positive with support.”
The county has made a total of $1.75 million available to local businesses through relief programs since the start of COVID-19, which town representatives reported as being a big help. But beyond financial support, town officials said they’ve been helping business owners “think outside the box” and work through issues like finding outdoor seating.
Woodstock Enhancement Coordinator Katie Mercer said even if restaurants in Woodstock have been seeing fewer customers, she hasn't heard many grumblings or complaints. Instead, they’ve been working to stay positive and find new ways to bring in customers.
Bixler said it’s important to remember that business owners and those working in tourism-related industries are likely somewhat stressed out and for folks visiting establishments to be kind and supportive.
“Some of our downtown businesses are struggling, but some of them are struggling not necessarily for the reasons you would think. It’s like everything is piling on — they’re teaching from home, their business is hurting a little bit, but all the things are happening,” she said. “Our business owners are human beings, first and foremost, and it’s weighing on them.”