Oswego County’s battle through COVID and the future fight

Editor’s note:

For the past two centuries, The Palladium-Times has shared community news with our readers with the goal of informing the citizenry of all the news that’s fit to print: the good and the bad.  Controversial issues deserve rigorous coverage and examination of both sides of a debate — unless we have enough demonstrated facts to convince us of the urgent necessity to endorse one viewpoint.  This is one of those times.

The COVID-19 pandemic has inspired many debates: the abrupt closure of schools and businesses; mandating self-quarantine; the banning of large public gatherings and attempting to keep a 6-foot social distance. All without even getting into wearing masks or other appropriate facial coverings in public. None of us expected to deal with a catastrophe of this magnitude in our lifetimes, but it is here and it is real.

We all have our own stories of struggles since the mid-March crisis when our lives, our jobs and our communities were changed forever.  The stories of collaboration from businesses big and small, children working to acknowledge first responders, individuals, community organizations and angels who brought daily meals and supplies to those “essential” workers (many of whom went weeks without a day off) as we rallied to do our best to keep the virus at bay. Each of us has been impacted. We are tired, but encouraged by data suggesting Oswego County has been successful in containing COVID-19 thus far. It feels like we are finally on the road to recovery.

Jim Weatherup, Chairman of the Oswego County Legislature shared a letter with The Palladium-Times (Available by clicking here) that inspired us to look deeper into how Oswego County communities and the small businesses within them are adapting and evolving under our new normal.

What follows is the journey of community leaders, small businesses and elected officials who are dealing with these issues every day; some because they have to, some because they have a commitment to assist and protect the people who live, work and visit here, and some purely as a matter of survival.  We hope their thoughts will encourage all of us to step up and do our part to make Oswego County an example of a place where communities come together to support each other. Community strength and collaboration are positive feedback loops — the harder we try, the easier it gets and the more rewards to reap. Join us below and on Page A-9 as we demonstrate that community strength and collaboration inspire hope, and the three combined create the opportunity to overcome any challenge.

Businesses, governments adapt to new reality; local support critical for success

OSWEGO — As one might expect, the business sectors that need the most support and cooperation from the public are retail and restaurant businesses. Most commonly found in areas of population density, the highest concentration of these businesses in Oswego County occurs in our two cities and the villages of Central Square, Mexico, Phoenix and Pulaski.

However, given our abundance of natural, cultural and historic resources, there are small business throughout the county that need our support including those that make their living in the agri-business sector.

Agricultural businesses have not been immune from the COVID. Eric Behling, managing member at Behling Orchards has witnessed many of the same issues other businesses are dealing with.

“Our customer base and person-to-person experience is somewhat different than those in the average retail or restaurant business but we still have employees that need protection and it seems that the retail customers that we do have understand how important it is to cooperate with rules that are outside of our control,” Behling said. “So far, we haven’t had any real problems and we appreciate the public’s support of our business and all of the other businesses in our communities who have suffered during this pandemic experience.  It’s just another example of why this is a great place to work and live.”

In a typical year, many small businesses in the county benefit from our tourism industry, which literally draws visitors from around the world.  Given the restrictions associated with travel under these conditions, it is no surprise that the tourism industry has been deeply affected by the COVID pandemic.

David Turner, director of Community Development, Tourism & Planning for Oswego County said sales and occupancy tax losses would likely be “significant.”

“We are also very worried about the revenue and jobs lost to all those employers and employees who work in our various tourism-related businesses,” Turner said. “Most of these are seasonal in nature and even a short break in their typical fiscal year can be devastating. Some places still haven’t been able to open under the New York State guidelines. For the health and safety of our own residents, and due to the travel restrictions from quarantined states, we have adjusted our summer marketing strategy to focus on daytrip and regional overnight visitors.”

Turner encouraged aggressive support of local businesses.

“This means not only eating at local restaurants and shopping at local stores, but also respecting our business owners’ obligation to enforce the health regulations,” he said. “By working together to prevent the spread of coronavirus, we are helping to move the economy forward while safeguarding our family’s, neighbors’, and community’s health.”

Never before holding a public office and less than three months into her first term as the new mayor of the city of Fulton, Mayor Deana Michaels found herself on the long list of elected officials confronted with a worldwide pandemic.

 “The safety of our Fulton community has been and will continue to be of the utmost importance,” Michaels said. “COVID-19 presents many challenges and as a community we continue to adjust. Through all of the disruption and uncertainty, Fulton proudly remains strong and resilient. I am proud of our residents, businesses and all who spend time in Fulton, for keeping our numbers low and spirits high during this pandemic.

Gary Toth, Chairman of the Oswego County Industrial Development Agency (COIDA), collaborated with Operation Oswego County (OOC) and the county of Oswego to create an Emergency Loan Fund.

“COIDA was able to provide the needed funds for the loans that would be offered, through OOC, to dozens of Oswego County’s small businesses,” he said. “In addition, the COIDA offered deferrals on existing IDA loans for several businesses. The strength of our partnerships and ability to collaborate gives Oswego County hope as we move from response to recovery. We ask the community to stay the course by wearing their masks and practicing social distancing so we can all get through this safely together.”

As Toth mentioned, their activities were in concert with OOC. Their Executive Director is Mike Treadwell.

“Through this collaboration, we were able to assist dozens of companies across all business sectors throughout the county. In addition, OOC developed a COVID-19 resource page for their website to provide timely information from local, state and federal sources,” Treadwell said. “OOC will continue to update the web page with new information. As we look forward and transition into recovery, OOC is focusing on strategies to strengthen our local businesses and opportunities to enhance the Oswego County business environment to be more robust than before. The resolve and flexibility shown by our business community gives us great hope that we will recover and prosper. Please do your part to support these businesses and their employees by wearing a mask and practicing social distancing.”  

Organizations like the IDA, OOC and the GOFCC can assist business in their time of need, but the most important help comes from the community itself.  

Justin Trimble, general manager at Mexico’s Eis House said he’s seen “How painful this shutdown has been, economically, socially and with every aspect of life.”

“The ever-changing rules have made the process more difficult for restaurants and event centers,” Trimble said. “We have implemented the protocols and requirements placed on us and we have been fortunate our patrons have supported us and abide by the requirements placed on them. It is unfortunate we cannot serve our customers and community in the capacity we once did, for we are a social business. With an existing business and a startup, perseverance has been key. Although we have been met with many hurdles progress is being made. We wish all of our friends in the small business sphere the best and appreciate everyone’s support!”

Echoing many of Trimble’s thoughts, Shane Broadwell, a partner in the Broadwell Hospitality Group, also said NY PAUSE was “painful” but his company was “very fortunate to have a loyal and cooperative group of customers.”

“As soon as the re-opening opportunity was available, we put the proper protocols in place, and we have had very few issues so far,” Broadwell said. “There is no question that the new restrictions make it more costly and difficult to provide our customers with the quality experience they were used to but with their cooperation, we are making it work.  However, we also know from talking to other businesses, that this operating environment isn’t well received by everyone so we would like to add our voice to support them.  Please, do your part to help all of us!  Protect yourself, protect your family, friends and neighbors and help your local businesses remain as part of your community.  Wear a mask when required and practice social distancing when possible.”

County Administrator Phil Church implored  the Oswego County public to adhere to methods proven to help contain the virus spread.

“Masks and maintaining social distancing may feel like an unnecessary burden.  Young people may think they can’t get the virus.  Others may feel it’s their right to refuse,” Church said. “I understand their point of view, and I might have agreed had I not had a job that made me part of coordinating the local emergency response to the positive cases rising and spreading early on; had I not seen just one positive case infect and sicken over a dozen more people, proving to me exactly how explosively infectious this virus is; and had I not known a person this virus killed.

I follow the mask and distancing rules for two reasons.  First, its works, and it’s the responsible and right thing to do.  Masks don’t protect the wearer – they protect everyone else around the wearer, so he or she doesn’t inadvertently infect others.  I wear a mask because I don’t have the right to risk someone else’s health and safety.  Second, like it or not, following the rules will prevent the Governor from shutting down our businesses and the economy again.  We need to keep businesses open.  We need to keep our economy moving.  We need to make sure people have jobs to support themselves and their families.  Right now the smartest business decision an owner can make is to follow and enforce the mask, distancing and cleaning rules, because doing so prevents complaints, prevents virus spread, doesn’t alienate customers with health conditions, shows respect and concern for the community, and keeps yours’ and others’ businesses open.”

America is a successful country because it cherishes and encourages rugged individuality, county officials said.  America is also successful because in times of emergency and peril, Americans have always come together and made sacrifices for each other.  Now is one of those times.

 “It is important for all of us to follow the mask and distancing rules, and do whatever else it takes, to prevent the spread of the virus in our community and to support our local businesses as they attempt to re-open and operate within the state’s restrictions,” Church said. “Thank you for helping to keep Oswego County healthy and open.”

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