Annual Jefferson County Chamber of Commerce dinner takes a different form

CONNECTING — Ernie Dellatorre, president of McKinley Architecture and Engineering; and his wife, Tracy; chatted with Mary Decker and Pam Bolger of Valley Wine Cellar of Wintersville during the Mask-erade Barbecue held by the Jefferson County Chamber of Commerce outside and within St. Florian Hall Wednesday. (Photo by Warren Scott)

WINTERSVILLE — The Jefferson County Chamber of Commerce carried on a long tradition Wednesday, but like many things this year, went about it a little differently to address concerns raised by the coronavirus.

Chamber President Patricia Maple-Damewood noted for more than 100 years the organization has gathered for an annual meeting and dinner, often recognizing business owners and others who have played a vital role in the community.

Maple-Damewood said members were very interested in gathering with colleagues but wanted to do so in a safe way in which everyone would be comfortable.

From those concerns sprang the Mask-erade Barbecue, a fall-themed event held both outside and within St. Florian Hall and in observance of National Chamber of Commerce Day .

Just outside the hall, attendees could be found relaxing on hay bales spread around fire pits, where they could roast s’mores; or partaking of hot apple cider with a dash of rum or hot chocolate offered at the hot bar sponsored by Valley Hospice; or an assortment of wines and beer supplied by local businesses the Patriot Tap House, Dungeon Hollow Brewing Co. and Valley Wine Cellar.

Guests also took part in a cornhole tournament before entering the hall for a barbecue feast they could enjoy inside or outdoors.

Attendees also were encouraged to wear masks, with prizes awarded for the scariest and most creative face coverings donned.

Maple-Damewood expressed thanks to the many entities behind the event, including gold sponsors Apollo Pro Cleaning & Restoration, Eastern Gateway Community College, Franciscan University of Steubenville, McKinley Architecture & Engineering, the Ridgefield Group and Trinity Health System; and silver sponsors First Choice America Community Federal Credit Union and WTOV-TV.

She said instead of singling out a handful of local businesses, the chamber sought to celebrate the resilience and hard work of all that weathered the pandemic, from those that endured a temporary closing of those deemed nonessential to all that adopted various safety measures aimed at deterring spread of the virus.

Vincetta Tsouris of Maryland Market was asked about the pandemic’s impact on the family-owned business, “We were very lucky. Groceries are something everyone needs, so we were essential.”

But she, her husband, Nick; and son, Sarandos; found themselves busier than before, as the hot food offered by the store was in greater demand by the many following stay-at-home orders and the three worked with several staff members to fill the many orders for pickup.

Vincetta stressed it was a task made possible by the hard work of everyone there.

Amanda DeShong and Joan Wallace said their new business, Amanda’s Gifts & More, was a victim of bad timing.

DeShong noted the Steubenville business opened just a few weeks before Gov. Mike DeWine ordered the shutdown of all but certain businesses.

“It was hard. We thought maybe it would be closed for two weeks. We reopened in May, as soon as he (DeWine) said we could,” she said.

DeShong said it takes time to establish the mechanisms needed for online transactions and the business has only recently been able to do that.

But she added now anyone can visit one Facebook page showcasing the store’s assortment of jewelry and items ranging from candles to prayer flags aimed at improving a person’s spiritual wellness.

DeShong said in a year that brought stress to many for various reasons, she hopes her business can help restore some peace of mind.

“It’s all about being positive, how you can get yourself on that positive path,” she said.

Maple-Damewood, meanwhile, is preparing for future chamber events, including Small Business Saturday.

Plans for the occasion, which follows Black Friday each year, include placement of special coupons at participating local businesses.

Maple-Damewood noted small businesses play a key role in the community, supporting local charities, events and sports teams while most of every dollar spent at them is returned to the local economy.

She noted while following stay at home orders, many turned to local businesses for their food and other needs and those businesses worked hard to meet that demand while others experienced a setback from being temporarily shuttered.

“If ever there was a year when shopping local was important, it’s this year,” she said.

(Scott can be contacted at wscott@heraldstaronline.com.)


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