Keizer Chamber extends reach during pandemic

Danielle Bethell, executive director of the Keizer Chamber of Commerce, accepts a donation of face masks from Marion County Commissioners Colm Willis, Kevin Cameron and Sam Brentano.

In the weeks since Keizerties began sheltering at home and reducing the number of trips they’ve made, the Keizer Chamber of Commerce has redoubled its efforts to support the Keizer business community. 

Part the opening salvo was quickly establishing social media communities where residents could find out which stores and restaurants were open, but quickly shifted to a deeper level of support. 

“I personally touched 172 businesses in Marion County either in Zoom or in-person meetings,” said Danielle Bethell, executive director of the Keizer chamber. “It’s really just sitting and listening to a business owner and hearing about what their normal operations are like and then helping them break down operational costs to just stay open.”

During the pandemic crisis, the Keizer chamber and its volunteer members are assisting members and non-members alike. 

When one local restaurant was trying to navigate a change to take-out service only, questions about delivering alcohol alongside meals arose. Bethell contacted some local breweries to determine what they were doing to navigate Oregon liquor regulations in addition to the guidelines affecting all businesses during the pandemic. 

“What it’s amounted to for most businesses is a lot of confusion and feelings of being overwhelmed,” Bethell said. 

Chamber staff have also consulted with businesses on the hard questions of layoffs and how to handle them. 

“We had one that was in jeopardy of layoffs that could have resulted in age discrimination claims and we were able to help them navigate away from that,” Bethell said. 

She has also participated in teleconference calls with a wide array of those affected by the pandemic. 

“We had one with more than 70 hairstylists and barbers on the line to talk about what they were seeing and what measures they could take to reopen,” she said. 

Last week, Bethell accepted delivery of face masks from the Marion County Health Department that will be given out to Keizer businesses according to their need. Bethell said she pitched the idea to Marion County commissioners during a meeting two weeks prior. 

“A lot of our local businesses are going to need masks and other items to begin to reopen and this was a way to assist,” Bethell said. 

A total of 10,000 masks were donated to local chambers of commerce throughout Marion County. 

Bethell is currently running to replace Commissioner Sam Brentano on the Marion County Board of Commissioners and that standing has granted her access to calls and meeting she might not otherwise be privy to. 

The chamber is putting up a survey on its Facebook page requesting info about businesses protective equipment needs and will arrange for pick-up of the masks at its office. 

In the midst of putting out a thousand small fires, the chamber itself has taken some considerable lumps in recent weeks. It started with needing to layoff one of its three employees and peaked with the postponement of the annual KeizerFEST. While organizers hoped to simply delay the festival until August, Oregon’s ban on large gatherings is now expected to extend through September which puts the new target dates in question. 

“We’re doing this effort with two people and a board of amazing community volunteers,” Bethell said.