The path the Gulf County Chamber of Commerce navigated since Hurricane Michael could be considered a microcosm of the broader community.
The Chamber’s offices were badly flooded during Hurricane Michael, displacing the agency, through sheer kindness and consideration, into the offices of Coastal Realty.
The business community the Chamber represents sustained heavy damages from Michael’s winds and waters.
The Chamber’s executive director and marketing director were forced to take employment elsewhere.
But from that devastation, the Chamber is emerging behind a passionate board of a directors and public information officer.
The agency will soon move into new offices in the 300 block of Reid Ave. and are devoting plenty of energy to the upcoming Blues on the Lot.
The long-time Apalachicola event had its first staging in Port St. Joe last year and given the enthusiasm and crowds it was a no-brainer to continue what the Chamber hoped will become a springtime staple.
“People really wanted that and our board is really invested in that event,” said Lorinda Gingell, who is currently providing the Chamber’s public face.
“We have a lineup we are putting together, we have vendors and we’ve added barbecue. It should be a lot of fun.”
The event kicks off Friday evening, March 22, and continues until Saturday evening, March 23.
The stage will again be at Third Street and Reid Ave. with Reid blocked to through traffic between Second and Fourth.
“It is the same set-up as last year and it was a super event last year,” Gingell said. “Overall, the estimated crowd, including Friday and Saturday, was 2,500 to 3,000. That is pretty good.”
Michael also compelled the board of directors to follow through on a much-discussed idea to move the annual membership renewal drive.
Typically Dec. 31/Jan. 1, the renewal date will now be in March30/April 1, in part due to the Chamber needing to bring records and the like current, but also to assist member businesses.
“We had a lot of people who said it was already too busy and too confusing during the holidays,” Gingell said.
In the short-term, the Chamber also sponsored several public meetings to provide information for those businesses and individuals dealing with insurance and federal agencies.
On the long-term side, the Chamber is actively tracking the progress of rebuilding businesses as well as the arrival of new businesses.
There is interest in the area, Gingell said, noting a waiting line for businesses trying to secure vacant space in the downtown area.
The Chamber had to act quickly on its new address in the 300 block of Reid in part because of the interest in the space.
“There is a lot of interest and there is going to be a lot of work here,” Gingell said, adding that a Chamber focus is being as user-friendly as possible to assist businesses as they build or rebuild.
“We are looking forward to growth,” Gingell said. “There are new businesses coming in and we want to do as much as we can to help them get established.
“For those businesses and our established businesses, we are trying to make (the Chamber) as friendly and helpful for the business community. We are all going through the same thing.”