Serving Gogebic, Iron and Ontonagon Counties

Chamber renewals reflect pandemic struggles


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Ironwood — A drop in annual membership renewals to the Ironwood Area Chamber of Commerce is a reflection of the pandemic impact on local businesses, according to chamber director Michael Meyer.

Meyer spoke to the Downtown Ironwood Development Authority at its Thursday meeting. He said business owners are struggling to make ends meet. Renewal fees have not increased but businesses are under a great deal of stress right now, he said.

“That is going to continue for a while,” Meyer said. “But I expect that things will be different in June and July and we want to be ready for that.”

Renewals for 2021 are especially important to show strong membership in the bi-annual update of the Ironwood Destination Guide, he said.

Ironwood Mayor Annette Burchell, also a DIDA member, said DIDA needs to keep in mind that it will be a “tough winter” for local businesses, independent workers, artists and the community in general.

“We as the DIDA, as the chamber, or the city commission need to get the word out about shopping local and the importance of it this year,” Burchell said.

The concept of encouraging online shopping during the pandemic is understandable, but many area businesses don”t have those resources or capabilities, or are just not in that mindset, she said. 

“I think that”s fabulous if you can do that,” Burchell said. “But we need to just be encouraging, however we can, to safely support our local businesses to help them survive this season.”

The holiday season is normally a huge economic time for businesses, she said. But there are many restaurants and caterers that won”t have as much additional revenue from holiday parties this year.

“Businesses are just trying to hang on,” Burchell said. “Whatever we can all do to help our neighbors, our businesses, our downtown and the whole community throughout the region — just keeping that spirit.”

Meyer said that many events related to the Jack Frost Festival are canceled this year. He said it”s important to move forward with as many events that are safely possible to continue building the theme of Ironwood as a winter community.

There are currently six local merchants taking part in the window display contest, he said. It would be ideal to reach last year”s level of 15.

The DIDA agenda continued with discussion on goal setting. The intent, according to Amy Nosal, DIDA chair, is to establish smaller goals that involve more members in the process.

Most of DIDA”s ongoing goals are very big goals, she said. Establishing a Tax Increment Financing district and improving the city”s riverfront access are important but the work lay mostly with the city community development staff.

“Those are excellent goals but maybe we can also have a couple of smaller goals for us to work on as well,” Nosal said.

In his reports, Bergman said the application period for the city”s marijuana establishments ordinance is open and there is a lot of interest based on the number of calls and emails he receives from interested parties with questions. The competitive process includes a public hearing for each applicant with the planning commission.

“It will be a long process and the entire application and scoring process could take eight months, and depends on the number of applicants we get,” Bergman said. “Because it is a competitive process it does complicate the process in terms of how applicants are managed and scored.”

Bergman said work on the city zoning ordinance update has completed its first phase with the consultants and that comments from the city committees will be sought for a draft version in early 2021. Once the zoning ordinance is approved then the focus will return to the TIF district project. 

The next DIDA meeting will be held online at 8 a.m. Thursday, Dec. 17.

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