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The Peoria Chamber of Commerce operates as an advocate for area businesses, especially small businesses, which was crucial as many were impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic’s impact on the economy. 

Scot Andrews, the chamber’s CEO and president, stressed that the chamber’s business members were hit very hard by the pandemic. While the chamber initially lost business members during the onset, it has been able to get 90% of its members back during the past few months.

The stock market hit a record high in February, driven by a strong economy and record-low unemployment, but tumbled 35% from February 20 to March 23, adjusting for the expected change the pandemic would have on economic growth. A fast-growing stock market decline lasted until April 7. 

The market’s sell-off weighed heavily on consumer confidence and negatively impacted most businesses, especially small, family-owned businesses. Andrews explained that the pandemic combined with current laws and regulations to create an environment in which small businesses struggled to adapt. For example, Andrews cited lease and landlord covenants, conditions and restrictions that restricted businesses from utilizing outside space when the pandemic made operating indoors extremely limited.  

The city of Peoria stepped in to help small businesses that suffered during the pandemic. 

The city also organized a Small Business Task Force, providing “outreach and immediate support,” for small businesses during the rise of the COVID-19 pandemic. For example, in March the task force supplied banners businesses could use to show if they were open and how they were open (virtually, via delivery, adjusted hours, etc.), which helped customers adjust and continue to support these businesses.  

“The city of Peoria, led by our Mayor (Cathy Carlat) and the Small Business Task Force, have made a large positive impact with the (area) businesses,” Andrews said. 

Regarding federal and state assistance, Andrews said, “While the initial funding and support was good, the criteria for opening or closing businesses was suspect and not equitable across businesses. Thus, businesses were unduly burdened to close when others stayed open.”

Andrews further explained that small businesses remain at a disadvantage.  

“Small businesses are burdened by significant startup costs, taxes and regulations. The margin of error is small, and their ability to adapt to unprecedented economic conditions is not fully in their control,” Andrews said.  

He urged Peoria residents to help these businesses by shopping locally, buying gift cards and liking Facebook pages.  

Despite the pandemic, Andrews hopes to create an environment in which Peoria is viewed as “the gold standard for unprecedented growth environment for small business startups."