Lisa Field has been involved in the Sag Harbor Chamber of Commerce in one way or another for 30 years, but in December she will step down as the Chamber’s president after six years in the position in an effort to focus on her business — the iconic Variety Store on Main Street — but also with the hope that new leadership will reinvent the organization into one that can serve the needs of the business community in a post COVID-19 landscape.
“Business will be different when we come out of this. I think the Chamber of Commerce might be different,” she said in an interview on Monday. “I don’t know if our focus will remain on bringing people into town. We might need to take a whole new way of looking at how the Chamber supports businesses.”
Ms. Field informed the Chamber board that she would step down at a meeting in May. Chamber Vice President David Brogna, who owns the Main Street store In Home with John Scocco, also announced he would be stepping down in addition to Ms. Field.
“We did this for six years, and I think it is time for the next group of people to take over,” said Mr. Brogna. “The Chamber takes a lot of time — Lisa would tell you 12 hours a week, but it is really more like 20, and it takes a lot of time away from your own business.”
In interviews this week, both business owners stressed that they would remain Chamber members and involved business leaders, but that they both needed to take more time to focus on their own businesses and also hope to see new leadership emerge equipped to tackle what will be a challenging time for the business community.
After 15 years of hosting the Father’s Day weekend sidewalk sale, rebranded by Ms. Field and Mr. Brogna as the “Whale of a Sale” Sidewalk Fair, the Chamber announced it would not host the event this year due to COVID-19. In order to hold the event, the Chamber would have to be responsible for ensuring patrons on Main Street were maintaining social distancing and monitor safety protocols used by participating businesses. It would also have had to provide outdoor handwashing stations.
“As an all-volunteer group of local business owners with modest resources, we would not be able to do this to the level necessary to keep our businesses and patrons safe,” Chamber leadership said in an email sent to its membership last month.
It has also cancelled the June and September Arts & Crafts Fair due to space constraints and social distancing requirements. No decisions have been made about HarborFest, the village’s annual festival in September. Ms. Field said she would hope to not have to cancel Sag Harbor’s most popular event, but said that if it was held, it would likely be different than years past as a result of the virus outbreak.
While some events have been cancelled, the Chamber has been working on a social media and print advertising campaign to support Sag Harbor businesses as they begin to re-open. The Chamber launched a special program earlier this year and offered to pay half of the advertising bill for The Express News Group’s Open for Business magazine, which will come out this week. Following the crisis with COVID-19 and the closure of most businesses, the chamber decided to pick up the entire tab for those members who booked ads through the chamber program, Mr. Brogna confirmed on Tuesday.
“I think moving forward we need to increase advertising to get the message out there that we are open,” he said. “We are going to have to come up with creative ways to do that.”
Mr. Brogna said in addition print advertising, social media campaigns and email blasts were other avenues the Chamber was exploring to support local businesses in its membership.
“The Chamber is supposed to support us in what we do best,” said Mr. Brogna. “It is a support system based on technology and omni-channel marketing, where we can move to the next level. I believe in print advertising, but it does need to be combined with other forms of marketing.”
For Ms. Field, the decision to step down, while necessary, is bittersweet. She has been a part of the Chamber since returning from college in 1991 to join the family business at The Variety Store, also known as “The Five and Dime.”
“The first thing my dad told me I had to do was get involved in the Chamber of Commerce,” Ms. Field said. “Within a week, I was the recording secretary.”
Since then, Ms. Field has chaired events like the Chamber’s popular Ragamuffin Parade and Pumpkin Trail at Halloween and the Easter Bonnet Parade at Easter, which Ms. Field’s brother, Phil Bucking, compliments annually with a petting zoo at his business, the Sag Harbor Garden Center on Spring Street.
Six years ago, Ms. Field said she felt ready to take over as Chamber President.
“I just knew I could give it my all,” she said. “And right from the start, I said to myself, I can do this for five years. After that, I think people get complacent.”
Under the leadership of Ms. Field and Mr. Brogna, the Chamber rebranded and grew its events and redesigned its website.
“I am really pleased with what we have been able to accomplish,” said Ms. Field. “And I said to myself, I can do a sixth year. And then the pandemic hit. Luckily, we were able to stay open, but I could see I really needed to put my focus back into my own business. And I felt I could see myself not having the time for the emails and the questions that need to be answered when you are the Chamber president.”
Ms. Field said she hopes whoever is nominated in November to lead the board is someone who has a vision for what the Chamber needs to evolve into to support local businesses post COVID-19.
“There are going to be some changes and there are new businesses coming in and fresh ideas that comes with new blood and creativity,” she said. “We have a great community here and the Chamber has a lot of great members with a lot of energy. That is why I wanted to put this out there sooner rather than later, so one of those people can step up. I plan on working with them and giving them everything I have learned as president.”
Mr. Brogna said he hopes new leadership will include a business owner.
“There is a difference between working for a business and owning a business,” he said. “There are certain realities you understand when you own and operate your business.”
He added that bolstering the shoulder seasons will be more critical than ever in the next year as businesses attempt to recover from the impact of COVID-19. Ultimately, what businesses survive, he added, will be determined by the community.
“The community will decide which businesses are still standing,” he said. “Support your local businesses because you want them to be here, you love them and your Main Street. It will be up to the community to support their local businesses so we are still standing next summer.”