The Holidays were Spent a Little Differently this Year…

Corona was a business meteor smashing into the planet this year. In the US alone, it temporarily closed 150,000 small businesses per month nationwide!

Around 60% of those 150,000 businesses have closed permanently. And, of course, businesses weren’t the only victims; restrictions on everyday socializing were in place with a second “stay-at-home” order being advised across the US.

With both businesses and daily social living being affected, it would’ve been easy to write off the holidays and go into hibernation mode with comfort food and Netflix. But Laura Lane had no plans for hibernation. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves, though…

Welcome to Livingston County

Around 30 minutes south of Rochester, New York lies Livingston County – a small region in western central New York, home to just over 65,000 people. 

As the President and CEO of the Livingston County’s Chamber of Commerce, Laura Lane needed to plan an event in December to celebrate the holidays for Livingston County. 

Normally, not a problem. But in 2020, a BIG problem arrived in the form of a pandemic, a lock-down and closure of non-essential business.

To solve this riddle, Laura reflected on a single line in their agency’s strategic plan: “To instill a cutting-edge culture at the Chamber.”

Lane knew they needed to be not only a cutting-edge chamber, but just like many of their business members – they needed to dig deep and go “above and beyond” to support the business community. 

But what would “cutting-edge” look like?

The Chamber listed out the obvious solutions, such as developing lists of restaurants that offered take-out and pick-up as well as retailers with online purchasing options and curbside pick-up. 

They even added an e-commerce section on the Chamber’s website that allowed for the purchase of multiple gift certificates to various retailers, restaurants and businesses in different denominations, all in one transaction.

Yet, while “cutting-edge” remained elusive, Laura continued to draw inspiration from a special book, Magicians of Main Street – America and Its Chambers of Commerce, 1768-1945.

The Lightbulb Moment

As the dedicated Chamber staff wrestled with ideas and opportunities to help their business members whether the darkness of the pandemic and winter months, they experienced the proverbial “lightbulb and flat-forehead” moment.

As the dedicated Chamber staff wrestled with ideas and opportunities to help their business members whether the darkness of the pandemic and winter months, they experienced the proverbial “lightbulb and flat-forehead” moment.

A couple of staff members had participated in a virtual brainstorming session with other chamber professionals across the country via a video conferencing platform called Remo.

At the same time, Laura and her colleague, Melissa Savino, threw open their office doors, locked eyes and realized at the same moment that the solution had been staring them in the face the whole time: In unison, they said …“why not use Remo?”

The Livingston County Chamber used Remo throughout 2020 to stay in contact with other Chambers of Commerce from across the country. After one particular online session with a few of the Chambers, they realized that Remo might be the perfect platform to help businesses weather the holiday shopping season.

“I remember the day when we (my staff members and I) both came out of our offices and looked at each other and said- ‘There’s got to be an application of this (Remo) to the business community in Livingston…”

Remo seemed like a great potential fit. The free flow of movement between tables, the virtual avatars, and the creative floor plans made it easy to translate Remo’s virtual experience into a Christmas themed festival. 

They found that her experiences on Remo interacting with other Chambers of Commerce translated easily into a remote shopping experience that didn’t feel mechanical.

“We found ourselves in this perfect world, where we could combine the willingness and adaptability of both the business owner and the consumer to use new technology. We saw Remo as the one that brought that human element into it…”

When a second nation-wide lockdown was mandated as the holiday season drew closer, they knew it was time to put Remo to the test!

Aligned with the Chamber’s cutting-edge spirit, they birthed The Shops of Livingston County: A unique, virtual interactive shopping experience that enables customers to interact with store clerks while shopping online from the comfort (and safety) of their homes.

The Shops of Livingston County Go Virtual!

Upon entering the magical virtual event space, guests are treated to a festive shopping experience, including quaint virtual shops to visit along Santa Street, Candy Cane Lane, and Reindeer Drive. 

Guests make their way across the virtual streets to watch product demonstrations from staff members and store owners as they decide what they want to buy. And, of course, Santa couldn’t resist dropping by to greet shoppers of all ages from literally around the world.

Holiday goods like cookies, wine, Christmas sweaters, candles, lights, decorations, stuffed animals, and other gifts were all available for guests to browse and purchase. Visitors could easily make a purchase from storefronts by visiting the link on store banners.

Anything is Possible in Livingston County!

After just the first week of The Shops of Livingston County, local businesses were eager to be part of the event. The first week had validated their intuitions about what was possible.

“We knew that the consumers and the business owners were open to trying new technologies, but they missed the human contact; Remo provides that.”

The Livingston County Chamber was able to safely “land the plane” and give local small business owners hope, even under dire conditions. Their strength of will and openness to finding new ways to do things meant that even in a time of isolation, they found a way to bring human connection to the people of Livingston County and keep the holiday spirits alive and strong.   

With that level of creativity and innovation, the Livingston County Chamber foresees a promising future for their member businesses in the years to come, whether socially distanced or in-person.
Beyond the holiday season, The Shops of Livingston County will expand to include a variety of virtual shopping experiences, complemented by seasonal streetscapes.

If you are part of a local Chamber of Commerce, feel free to contact the Livingston County Chamber for advice on how you can bring customized Shops to your community.

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