TREASURE ISLAND — The local Chamber of Commerce promotes tourism and assists beach businesses to prepare for traditional hurricane season or even the occasional red tide — but no one could have envisioned helping restaurants and retail shops survive in the wake of a global pandemic.
“This year we all faced obstacles never seen or even imagined,” Barry B. Rubin, new president of the Treasure Island & Madeira Beach Chamber of Commerce, said in an interview with the Beacon.
“Covid has changed the way every business does business and chambers are no exception,” he added. “At the Treasure Island & Madeira Beach Chamber we have implemented from the very start a strict Covid protocol that includes distribution of masks and hand sanitizer in our welcome center, offices and at every event sponsored by the Chamber. Masks and social distancing are required as is posted throughout our offices and welcome center.”
The chamber has a Zoom web platform for much of its programming, he added, allowing those interested in attending meetings or programs to do so from their home or office.
The chamber has also been attempting to weigh the pandemic’s impact on the local economy. “We have reached out to each of our members in the form of a survey designed to specifically gauge the impact of Covid on their businesses,” the new chamber president said. “We have hosted and will continue to offer programs on best practices for government funding, including PPP (Paycheck Protection Program) and other Small Business Association loans, in addition to supplementary grant programs. We have included SBA lenders, members of the Florida Legislature, as well as members of the Pinellas County Commission as guest speakers on government programs offering financial relief.”
The chamber has made available masks, hand sanitizer and social distancing postings for members, and hosted a drive-thru mask distribution for members of the community.
“More business, including restaurant and lodging, is being conducted online then ever, and we do not expect that trend to change,” Rubin said. “Considering that, we have unveiled a state-of-the-art web site with integrated member directory search-engine optimization designed to drive traffic directly to our membership and boost sales and revenues both online and on-premise. We will continue to take the lead as new demands are realized. We plan to continue our surveys frequently to make sure that our finger is on the collective pulse of our members’ trepidations, and not one member falls through the cracks.”
With the tourist season coming back, both Treasure Island and Madeira Beach face familiar challenges. Rubin said traffic and parking will continue to be issues, and the chamber is working with both cities on “pragmatic solutions” that will benefit not only businesses, but the cities and tourists as well.
He said the end of the COVID-19 tunnel means jobs will be created. The chamber is participating with Visit St. Pete/Clearwater and the Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association in job expos, as well as offering classes geared to helping members attract and retain employees.
While there are numerous chambers of commerce in the area, including the Gulf Beaches Chamber, the Treasure Island & Madeira Beach Chamber remains hyper-focused on helping businesses in the local beach cities. “Our focus is the business of Treasure Island and Madeira Beach, as well as other businesses located in southern Pinellas County and beyond that have an interest in working with the businesses, residents, and tourists of our specific service area,” Rubin said. “There are many other chambers adjacent to our service area, and it is commonplace everywhere for chambers to overlap. Our neighboring chambers are wonderful organizations with committed and well-intended staffs, I am fortunate to have a great relationship with all of them. Same holds true for the many merchants and trade associations locally as well. But when it comes to the businesses of Treasure Island and Madeira Beach, we are not just a chamber, we are the chamber.”
Rubin noted his business, DirectHR Inc., operated an office in Treasure Island for several years in addition to his offices in St. Petersburg. Prior to being elected president of the chamber, he served as a member of its board of directors and vice chairman. While he lives in St. Petersburg, he said he spends “a considerable amount of time at the beach supporting the surrounding businesses. I attend every local fair, festival, and occasion, or at least as many as I can.”
He serves on several nonprofit trade associations and was previously president of the Gulfport Merchants Chamber.
“My life’s work has always been small business,” Rubin said. “I believe small business is the backbone of the American economy. To say I am devoted to small business and to this community would be an enormous understatement.”