MANTENO — Cancellation might have been the word of the year in 2020 thanks to COVID-19, but the village of Manteno doesn’t seem to know the meaning of the word.
Opting for a different vocabulary, the village declared the show must go on. And with a whole lot of help from the Manteno Chamber of Commerce and some ingenuity, it did.
“As the marketing and community relations director for the village, we worked hard to make sure some sort of variation of our annual events happened,” said Sarah Marion, president and CEO of the Manteno chamber.
It’s for this reason that the chamber has been chosen as Excellence in Hospitality as part of the Daily Journal’s 2021 Progress Awards.
While some events just can’t be adapted to fit into a COVID world — including the Celebration of Membership Annual Dinner, golf outing, Oktoberfest festivities and the Holiday Business Walk — the village, chamber and other community organizations pooled their efforts to ensure the community still had ways to come together through modifications of annual events and wholly new events.
“Since we could not host Oktoberfest, we still wanted to do something special that same weekend, so we held a Lighted Golf Cart Parade in place of the usual Oktoberfest lighted parade,” Marion said, adding assistance also came from the police and public works departments. “And true to Oktoberfest form, one event that was salvaged was our Annual Garage Sale Days.”
The chamber also helped set up drive-by visits for the Easter Bunny and Santa, conducted the annual Lighting of Main Street — with social distancing in place, of course — and coordinated with the police department and Cruise Nights director to hold several car cruise parades.
All this effort shows just how important a sense of community is in Manteno, though a quick drive through its city center could have told you that. That drive will also show you just how many small businesses call the village home and call upon the chamber to help them succeed. Ensuring all these community events went on was part of the chamber’s effort to do just that.
“While we rely on events to generate much of our revenue, we were more concerned about the small businesses (our members) to keep their doors open,” Marion said. “The events that we were able to put on safely just were a way to bring a little joy to the community.”
Ensuring its members’ success became even more vital to their operations during the pandemic. As state-mandated restrictions put many businesses on hold, business owners needed all the help they could get to stay afloat.
Restaurants were hit particularly hard as they fell under restrictions for much of 2020. To help local eateries, the chamber conducted Facebook campaigns to share the lists of restaurants offering take out and a video campaign called “Daily Dish” highlighting local restaurants.
The chamber also conducted the Thrill of the Putt in July, which had participants visit 12 different businesses. In December, it held a “Shop Small Holiday Business Crawl,” which encouraged people to stop in local businesses on their own time to help support them.
And the effort didn’t go unnoticed.
“We felt so much appreciation from the community, and I am so glad we did these things,” she said. “We have an extremely supportive mayor and village board.”
But at the end of the day, Marion said, the chamber’s success lies in partnerships it creates to help the community.
“We believe the success of our organization is only as good as its collaborations.”