Hilliard groups helping businesses find footing after pandemic shutdown

KEVIN CORVO
kcorvo@thisweeknews.com
Libby Gierach (left), president and CEO of the Hilliard Area Chamber of Commerce, and Tim Kauffman, executive director of Destination Hilliard, stand at Hilliard's Station Park along Center Street in Old Hilliard. In the background is the new Center Street Market at 5354 Center St., anchored by Crooked Can Brewing Co. The leaders of both organizations said they are working to help revive Hilliard's restaurants and businesses in the wake of shutdowns during the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic.

Two Hilliard organizations whose missions are to promote and support the very things that have been the most limited during the the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic – tourism, hospitality and small businesses – are trying to help the local economy get back on its feet after the state's stay-at-home and shutdown orders.

Businesses and local venues only recently have started reopening or resuming normal operations – with social-distancing guidelines in place – after many were shut down in mid-March in a state-ordered effort to limit the spread of the coronavirus.

"The COVID-19 pandemic has been devastating to many Hilliard families and businesses including the local hospitality industry," said Tim Kauffman, who became Destination Hilliard's second executive director in August 2018. "Destination Hilliard's mission of cultivating and enhancing the economic impact of visitor spending through the promotion of Hilliard's hospitality industry has been significantly impacted."

For example, this summer would have been the first Hilliard's annual summer concert series at the amphitheater at Hilliard's Station Park would have been paired with the adjacent Center Street Market, the 16,000-square-foot food-and-craft venue at 5354 Center St. anchored by Crooked Can Brewing Co.

As of June 5, four tenants have opened – the Cheesecake Girl, Serendipity, Coffee Connections and Dumplings of Fury.

Four more were set to open soon after: Bakes By Lo, Legacy Station, Meatball Mafia and Rime Time Curiously Crafted Pops, Rob Fry, a Crooked Can partner, previously told ThisWeek.

But in response to the pandemic, the city has canceled all activities at Hilliard's Station Park through at least June 30.

In an effort to bolster businesses in Old Hilliard, Hilliard City Council increased the city's number of Designated Outdoor Refreshment Area events to four days a week through Aug. 15.

Established in 2017 in accordance with Ohio law, Hilliard's DORA creates a public outdoor district in which people are permitted to possess open containers of alcohol during approved times. Its boundaries and hours have expanded, and through Aug. 15, the DORA will be in effect from 4 to 9 p.m. Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays and from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Saturdays.

"Destination Hilliard is excited with the expansion of the DORA, and it is our hope that through promotion and word of mouth that our local residents will feel comfortable returning for this popular activity," Kauffman said.

Meanwhile, Kauffman said, Destination Hilliard is continuing to work toward rebuilding the local economy.

"Our promotional focus and support is currently directed at Hilliard residents, local businesses and their employees," Kauffman said.

Those efforts include highlighting restaurants and attractions that have reopened and the protocols in place to ensure social distancing and safety for staff and customers, he said.

Much of the work is done online, Kauffman said.

"Destination Hilliard has been very active on social media providing the most up-to-date information and offerings to highlight Hilliard hospitality businesses and special events," he said.

The Hilliard Area Chamber of Commerce also has been aligning with statewide efforts to recharge local economies.

"We have always been promoting businesses (on social-media platforms, but) we are now advocating for our businesses with the state of Ohio and the United States Congress to be cognizant of the issues of small businesses trying to survive," said Libby Gierach, president and CEO of the Hilliard Area Chamber of Commerce.

The chamber joined America's Recovery Fund Coalition, an alliance of more than 100 trade associations and business organizations advocating for a grant-based federal assistance program "to power the resilience of American enterprise," Gierach said.

Locally, Gierach said, the chamber has been calling members to check in on the health of their businesses.

The chamber also has launched a "Hilliard Eats" Facebook page that includes more than 3,200 members who share dining experiences, Gierach said.

More recently, the chamber joined the city in launching a new effort called "Move Hilliard Forward," she said.

Residents will see the "Move Hilliard Forward" campaign reflected in many ways, Gierach said.

Participating businesses will display window decals and place logos on websites, she said.

"It will be the umbrella under which our promotion and joint communication happens," Gierach said. "These three simple words will represent businesses that are responsibly reopening and our efforts to promote economic development and growth that have been the hallmark of Hilliard's success."

The program extends to Hilliard companies banding together to provide support in many ways, including distribution of personal-protective equipment, City Manager Michelle Crandall said.

"Hilliard has always been at its best when it works together toward a unified goal, and that's been proven this spring," Crandall said. "That spirit of unity will be our most important tool and asset as we begin reopening our city, getting people back to work safely and finding ways to promote economic growth."

kcorvo@thisweeknews.com

@ThisWeekCorvo