By LEE J. KAHRS
BRANDON — The pandemic has been difficult on everyone, especially small business, but it has caused an unexpected boost to the Brandon Area Chamber of Commerce.
The Chamber’s annual auction is the nonprofit’s biggest fundraiser of the year. Due to the pandemic, a large crowd gathered in Central Park under a big white tent was not an option, so the directors decided to hold a silent auction. While the Chamber usually grossed between $10,000 and $13,000 on annual fundraiser, this year’s pandemic silent auction made the organization just over $20,000.
“It was a perfect storm of conditions and it paid off,” said Chamber Executive Directive Bernie Carr. “Some of it was people who just really wanted to support the Chamber in a touch year, but it was also a really good location, good parking, good access, windows, and it went on for two weeks.”
John and Heather Bierschenk donated storefront space in their building at 6 Park Street, free of charge, for the auction. Organizers also offered an eBay-style ‘Buy it now’ option, which turned out to be very popular. Bidders were also able to revisit their bids and counter bid as they wished.
“This year was just so much better,” Carr said. “We were in a tough place after spending a lot of money supporting businesses thought the Segment 6 construction downtown… and then the pandemic hit.”
But the lynchpin to the auction’s success was the Chamber’s volunteers, more so than ever before. An army of volunteers practicing good social distancing guidelines and wearing masks manned the storefront at least eight hours a day for two weeks. The Brandon Area Chamber boasts not only a healthy number of business members, but also close to 60 individual members who are not business owners and just want to support the Chamber.
“We had tremendous volunteers who manned the booth everyday,” Carr said. “We had a lot of coverage form individual Chamber members. That’s huge. We probably have 60 members who joined just to be part of the Chamber and the good work it does. It’s not ordinary to have that many individual members who aren’t business owners. We’re pretty lucky.”
All of this success begs the question: Will the Chamber hold a silent auction again next year, pandemic or not?
“It’s hard to say ‘No’ to that,” Carr said. “I’d like the Biershanks to have a paying tenant in their building by then, as great as the location was. I’d love to think about where we would have it.”