To mask or not to mask?

The debate about wearing masks in public got onto the table of several Chamber meetings this past week. Somehow the debate has now become political, rather than health specific.

Here’s our take on this: As a Chamber, we ask for those visiting our offices to have a mask at hand, for two reasons:

First, since you are looking for information, you want to ask questions and be in closer proximity to the person you are seeking information from.

Second, no one knows the possible compromised conditions of another human being. We want to offer a safe environment for staff and visitors alike. We are not asking you your political persuasion. We are asking you to respect the conditions of those we work with, to keep our community safer.

Do I feel uncomfortable in a mask? Sure I do, but I always have one at hand, ready, in case circumstances change.

Our discussions led to the impact that masks are having on small business. We all have adjusted to going to the grocery store and big box stores for our provisions. However, it appears there is still a resistance to going into a small retail business. Why, I wonder? One retailer told me: “Being a retailer that sells non-essential items, the feedback I am getting from customers is that they would feel more comfortable going out to shop, if everyone were wearing a mask, as the theory is that masks don’t protect you, they protect everyone else. So even though they may wear a mask, if no one else does, they do not feel safe. Plus, I do feel for the vulnerable part of our population as well, who have to go out in places where people are not wearing masks.”

Others will of course disagree. This all boils down to “common sense.” I am pretty sure most of us now have access to some type of mask or other face covering. As cases spike and the numbers are not looking so good, I would rather be ready to protect my family, friends, staff and myself by having my mask by my side, ready to “load” when needed. I am not making any political statement when I say this. I just want to protect others around me who simply cannot afford illness of any magnitude. Life is precious and should be protected, by any means possible, until time for a vaccine arrives. Please be safe and remember to visit our small businesses who truly need your support now more than ever. They are the ones there for you when you ask for sponsorships of local events, they live among us, employ locals among us and are what this community thrives on.

We are pleased to announce that our regular networking is set to resume, with new social distancing protocols in place. To attend one of our networking meetings, we currently do require an advance RSVP in order to comply with the protocols of our hosts, so remember to call us on 941-639-3720 well in advance, as attendance number may be restricted. At this point we can confirm, that our July Business over Breakfast at 7:15 a.m. July 8 will be hosted at 88 Keys in the Wyvern Hotel with guest speaker Punta Gorda Police Chief Pam Davis. Our Business After Hours will be hosted at the Military Heritage Museum, 900 W. Marion Ave., Punta Gorda, in conjunction with Beef O Brady’s. The After Hours starts at 5:30 p.m. and we encourage attendees to bring along a gift to promote your business in the drawing, as well as to offer any donations to the Museum’s operating fund. On July 29, our networking luncheon will return to hosts, Laishley Crab House. We shall be restricted to 50 people initially and therefore a paid advance reservation is required. The cost is $15, that includes a plated lunch and beverage (not adult, unfortunately). Reservations can be made at www.puntagordachamber.com in the shop chamber link or by calling 941-639-3720 during office hours. Here are the latest protocols for networking events:

We are in unprecedented and complicated times, but we know that as a Chamber we are the best networkers around, yet still must lead the community by example.

Until further notice:

1. To attend a PG Chamber event, you will need to have a prior RSVP to either reception@puntagorda-chamber.com or by calling 941-639-3720 (no later than 2 p.m. on the day prior to the event).

2. Our events will all, for now, be limited to 50 people maximum and therefore no walk-ups can be allowed, unless space allows — sorry. If you show up and are not on the RSVP list (unless it’s John’s fault!), you may be turned away, if space is unavailable.

3. As an example to the community, we encourage the use of masks and social distancing. We realize this is your own personal choice and we respect your personal decisions to not wear one, but please note it is in the very best interests of the Chamber to err on the side of all cautions.

4. Food and beverages will be served individually to you at events, going forward, until further notice.

5. For our After Hours, we encourage you to bring giveaways that are in the form of a local business gift card, secured in a Ziploc bag with your business card attached, so it can be sanitized prior to being given out. Alternatively, as long as your gift can be sprayed with disinfectant, you may bring along such a gift.

6. The microphone will be used by Chamber staff and/or guest speaker only and will be sanitized. Others invited to speak should practice their public speaking skills and/or shout.

We want to get back together and network effectively and hope that you all will respect these safety protocols, until such times as we are confident to remove them (in stages). Any questions, please call us 941-639-3720.

Our offices are open to the public from 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Monday to Friday, for any guest wishing to browse our large literature and gather information for themselves. We have safety protocols in place and ensure that hygiene and social distancing are maintained at all times. We are asking for guests to wear masks during their visit, especially as we act as reception for several other businesses in the Executive Suites behind us. We do have temporary masks for anyone needing one. You can also request information by visiting www.puntagordachamber.com, by emailing chamber@puntagorda-chamber.com or calling us on 941-639-3720. If we are closed, simply leave us a voicemail with the information required and an address to mail your material and return phone number and we’ll be happy to service your request on the next business day.

Just like any small business right now, the Punta Gorda Chamber of Commerce has bills to pay. We are incredibly grateful to the following businesses who renewed their membership this past week which allows us to continue our work, advocating for our membership and communicating to the business community as much valuable information that we can find to address your needs to. Every contribution, no matter how small, is valued and appreciated, as we strive to keep our family united. Together we shall get through this: River City Grill, PicklePlex of Punta Gorda, Cathy Schultz of Allison James, Royal Order of the Ponce de Leon Conquistadors, Destination Powersports and A+ Action Appliance. You are all heroes to us this week. Thank you for being a valued member.

John R. Wright is President of the Punta Gorda Chamber of Commerce jrwright@puntagorda-chamber.com.

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