Vinton Chamber continues to serve community despite pandemic, preserves Christmas parade tradition

By Debbie Adams

The Vinton Area Chamber of Commerce has continued to serve local businesses and the community in 2020 despite COVID-19.

“The year 2020 has thrown a lot of curve balls at us here at the Chamber, but the most exciting thing is that we have been resilient and time and time again have had to think outside the box and been able to find success,” said VACC President Justin Davison. “Our goal daily is to support and grow our town and businesses. This is happening daily in Vinton and with every ribbon cutting, thank-you email, or smile of a patron at an event, we know we are making a big and positive impact. We are excited to finish 2020 strong and have an even better 2021.”

The Vinton Chamber is led by Davison, Executive Director Angie Chewning and Executive Assistant Kathryn Sowers, assisted by their Board of Directors. While the pandemic has played havoc with their regular schedule of events for the year, the Chamber has done its best to support small businesses in Vinton and to provide its traditional entertainment for the community.

The Vinton Chamber has dug in, made the accommodations and sacrifices necessary to organize and hold events within CDC guidelines, and provided the community with what it has come to expect from the Chamber for 70 years—since its founding in 1950.

In most years, the Chamber kicks off their events for the year with the always popular Senior Expo at the  Vinton War Memorial in March; however, that’s when the coronavirus struck, leading to several postponements of the Expo, now rescheduled for March 23, 2021.

There was no Grains and Grapes Festival in May (now rescheduled for May 15), and no bi-monthly Lunch and Learn programs featuring area businesses. The Chamber hopes to get the Lunch and Learn series back on track again after the first of the year—hopefully in person, but at the least, virtually.

The much-anticipated State of the Town Address usually held at the War Memorial in early December, has been moved to April of next year (possibly a permanent change). New officers for 2021 will be installed on December 17 at their Holiday Open House rather than at the State of the Town event.

Fortunately, the Chamber was able to take advantage of the outdoor venue to continue the Mingle at the Market concert series at the Vinton Farmers’ Market—although they started up in July, not June as usual—and extended into October.

The Mingles drew crowds of those tired of being penned up in their homes, eager to see friendly faces outside their families, and to hear some great local musicians performing live—even if guests were required to wear masks and socially distance. Upcoming Mingle concerts in 2021 will be held on the second and fourth Saturdays, June through September.

The Chamber was able to continue with Mingle at the Market concerts over the summer of 2020. Uptown Band was the first band to perform this season.

The Chamber was able to collect gifts and assemble and deliver 625 Goody Bags this fall for local teachers at W. E. Cundiff, Herman L. Horn, Bonsack, and Mount Pleasant Elementary Schools, William Byrd Middle School and William Byrd High School to demonstrate the community’s appreciation for its educators as schools reopened.

Goody Bags for area teachers

The Vinton Fall Festival is traditionally held the first Saturday in October. This one came as scheduled. While many communities cancelled their fall celebrations, with health restrictions eased in late fall the Chamber was able to come up with a vibrant Vinton Fall Festival on October 3, with some limitations on crowd size and movement, and the addition of masks.

Many attendees commented that it was the best Fall Festival ever with local entertainment on two stages at the Municipal Building and the Farmers’ Market. Food, craft, and business vendors were overjoyed at being able to get back out and turn a profit—and chat.

The Vinton Area Chamber of Commerce continued a long tradition by hosting the Vinton Fall Festival on October 3, giving families a break from the isolation of COVID-19.

The annual Chamber Golf Tournament was repeatedly postponed, but finally held on October 8, at the Botetourt Country Club, with the one for 2021 scheduled for May 20.

Throughout the year, the Chamber was able to continue with the “Vinton Chatter” radio series broadcast on FOX Radio 910 on the second and fourth Wednesdays each month, featuring Chamber members, area events, Gauntlet winners, and elected and town or area officials.

The Vinton Chamber continued broadcasting Vinton Chatter on Fox 910 radio. Shown here are Vinton Acting Town Manager Pete Peters chatting with Chamber Executive Director Angie Chewning.

Recent guests have included then Captain (now Interim Chief) Fabricio Drumond and Sgt. Michael Caldwell from the Vinton Police Department, Acting Town Manager Pete Peters, Director of Community Programs and Facilities Chasity Barbour; and Annette Patterson from The Advancement Foundation and the Gauntlet.

Ribbon-cuttings for new businesses were few and far between—the Greenway and Boothe Real Estate team held their grand opening on January 9; the next ribbon-cuttings were held in November at KB Mercantile and Cross, Lavinder, Quinn, and Park Family Dentists.

In recent weeks, Elwood Staffing was able to hold a Job Fair with the Chamber. The Chamber has worked with Redbubble and artist Brook Ludy to develop and market a line of Vinton merchandise.

The Chamber’s biggest event each year is the annual Vinton Christmas Parade, scheduled for the first Thursday after Thanksgiving in Vinton.

Again, many communities have cancelled their parades or gone virtual. Vinton has elected to hold their “Vintage Vinton” themed-parade on December 3 with a unique format—a parade in reverse. The floats and other parade entries will be stationary along the regular parade route, while spectators drive past. In fact, guests to the parade will be able to participate more than usual by decorating their own vehicles for judging, in addition to floats being judged.

The Chamber is now accepting applications for float entries. Check their website at http://www.vintonchamber.com or call 540-343-1364 for details.

The Chamber will be sponsoring their Angel Tree project at Christmas as always.

Aside from all the special events, the Chamber has worked diligently to support struggling local businesses during the challenges of the pandemic. The Chamber has kept a focus on Vinton area restaurants, breweries, retail establishments, and service groups and their adapted hours and services on their Facebook page with daily updates, especially during the early months of the pandemic.

The Chamber worked with the Town of Vinton on publicizing financial programs available to the community through pandemic funding, including Small Business Association programs and the CARES Act.

As for the regular business of the Chamber, Chewning says that “on a daily basis we receive numerous emails, calls, visitors to our office, and social media and website inquiries.” They refer customers to businesses, businesses to local developers for brick and mortar locations, and work diligently with town officials for the economic development of the town.

The Vinton Area Chamber of Commerce has always been an integral part of the Vinton community, working hand in glove with the Town of Vinton for the benefit of citizens.

While their primary goal is to promote and assist local businesses, and recruit more,  they have always meant more to the town than that by their sponsorship of a host of events that contribute to the quality of life in the town—boosting the spirits of citizens, even in trying times such as these.

“This year has been a challenge for us all,” said Chewning. “We thank everyone for their continued support of the Chamber and our events. We look forward to 2021 with a calendar full of events and a desire to serve our businesses more than ever.  We are here to support them in whatever capacity they may need. “

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