As west Chandler businesses large and small suffered economic hardship during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, the city did not sit idly by.
It wanted to know: To what extent were residents shopping more online? The trend began well before the pandemic hit, but there was concern that people quarantining in place might have exacerbated it. Did Chandler shoppers venture into neighboring communities? A restaurant in Ahwatukee? A specialty shop in Gilbert? A big-box in Mesa?
As a result, the city created the “I Choose Chandler” economic-development initiative to support the Chandler business community. It invited businesses to join the marketing campaign to make the public aware that patronizing local firms and nonprofits keep them afloat, in turn amplifying Chandler’s economy. Messaging highlights the impact when residents shop, dine, volunteer and donate in Chandler.
The program also highlights precautions that businesses are taking to ensure customer health.
Key messaging pillars include: keep dollars in the local economy, retain jobs and wealth, build a strong community and encourage entrepreneurship.
Teakwoods Tavern & Grill in west Chandler, which closed permanently during the height of the pandemic, is precisely the type of firm the city hopes to save. Small businesses, the heartbeat of the workforce, especially need support. Nationally they employ nearly half of the private workforce.
“I Choose Chandler” shows that when money is spent in Chandler, it recirculates and creates jobs. For every $100 spent at a locally owned business, an average of $43 remains in Chandler’s economy.
“What we heard from businesses was that people were obviously pulling back on expenditures and shifting to online shopping,” said Micah Miranda, Chandler Economic Development Director. “We launched ‘I Choose Chandler’ to reenergize community support for our local businesses.”
The initiative’s messaging emphasizes that many businesses support local youth and community organizations, and that by shopping at Chandler-based businesses it facilitates that sort of giving while helping buyers get to know the people behind the product. That plays a big role in sustaining a diverse economy that offers local job opportunities.
“From a revenue standpoint, we are not seeing folks leaving us for neighboring communities,” said Dawn Lang, Chandler management services director. “We’re making sure they understand how spending in our community benefits our city, and we’re telling them how shopping online is negatively impacting our brick-and-mortar stores. We are grappling with how to manage that and help our local retailers. The start of that was Wayfair.”
On June 21, 2018, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of South Dakota against internet-sales giant Wayfair, Inc., overruling a longstanding requirement that businesses must have a physical presence in order to be taxed. The ruling requires remote sellers to collect and remit sales tax.
Beginning Oct. 1, 2019, online retailers were required to pay sales tax if their annual gross retail sales or income exceeded $200,000 in 2019, $150,000 in 2020, and $100,000 in 2021 and thereafter. Chandler will be receiving that new money that it could not collect before.
A study showed that the greatest threat to Chandler businesses is online shopping, more than residents spending their money outside the city.
“I Choose Chandler” emphasizes the uniqueness of the community, the one-of-a-kind experiences that make Chandler great. Being an entrepreneurial community, supporting local businesses encourages entrepreneurs to try new ventures in the city.
The website iChooseChandler.com was created to provide resources for businesses and to give them a forum to showcase their business.
“The business community has been very engaged and supportive,” Miranda said. “There are so many businesses that make Chandler unique. One thing we found that was kind of shocking was that even in these times is that people who are interacting are not even from Chandler. We get a lot from Mesa, Gilbert and, weirdly enough, quite a few from Maricopa.”
A partnership between the Chandler Economic Development Office and the city’s Industrial Development Authority Board provides reimbursement of as much as $500 to businesses for expenses incurred to combat COVID, such as cleaning supplies and masks, and hand sanitizer to ensure that customers feel comfortable.
“I Choose Chandler” has a business retention and hiring initiative of as much as $10,000, or $1,300 per employee kept on the payroll during the pandemic. So, Lang said, if five employees were maintained, that business would be awarded $6,500 to help keep them on the payroll. The city also is working with Maricopa County on a program that can provide as much as $25,000 in financial support for businesses.
Meanwhile, Miranda and Lang said that the city itself is on sound fiscal standing, largely because it budgets conservatively by habit, and that at the onset of the pandemic it dialed back expenditures even more for the 2020-21 fiscal-year budget that began July 1 and runs to next June 30 in anticipation of lost revenue.
Chandler’s adopted 2019-20 adopted fiscal-year budget was $244.3 million. In January, just before the pandemic, it was revised to $261.5 million in a then-robust economy. Later, a $10.5 million COVID-19 impact was trimmed from that, bringing it to $251 million. Actual revenue for the fiscal year came in $8.6 million above that projection, leaving a surplus.
“There are soft spots in certain areas, hospitality being the leader, but it’s nowhere near as bad as we projected,” Miranda said. “That’s the silver lining. We’re happy from a budget perspective.”
Representative of west Chandler businesses hit hard by COVID-19 are Modern Allo, a new locally owned unique business; Hop Social Tavern of the restaurant-bar industry, and Courtyard by Marriott Phoenix Chandler from the motel-hotel industry. They are profiled below.
What, exactly, is this west Chandler newcomer at 5865 W. Ray Road, owned by Sara Shields? It seems to defy definition. It’s part coffee shop, part day care, part day spa, part nail salon and part business center.
“It’s kind of a unique concept,” said Shields, 41, a former computer programmer and school teacher. “It all started when I had my second child. My husband was on a business trip and I was home with two little ones. I was burned out, kind of struggling to find balance and find time for myself and recharge my battery. I hear so many people struggling to find that balance, not just mothers but all working parents. This definitely is not just a place for women.”
Modern Allo opened in late July, just after the height of the pandemic and the second wave that kept people at home. That was not by design. She and her husband, Arman, signed the lease in November, 2019. They didn’t see a pandemic coming as the planned to gut the former batting cage and put in new plumbing and water line. Then, the pandemic hit, worked slowed and they nearly scrapped their plan.
“We tried to remain hopeful. Because we opened at the end of July, we don’t qualify for anything, any of the grants or business loans,” Shields said. “We’re just trying to get our name out there. It is stressful and challenging.”
Modern Allo: modernallo.com / 480-687-0197.
Hop Social Tavern
Three years ago, Hop Social opened in the former Elephant Bar space, 3405 W. Chandler Blvd., at Chandler Fashion Center. It quickly became a place where patrons wanted to gather, with its upscale-casual ambience (linens on the tables) and a huge patio with capacity for 100, made comfortable by a mister system in the summer and heaters and fireplaces in the winter.
Nearly everyone was furloughed in the spring when the pandemic hit. Still, it continued to attempt generate the kind of community spirit that it had been blessed with in better times through its participation in “Feed the 5,000,” a partnership with a local church to feed families.
“We’re always really big on supporting local projects like this,” said Brittany Johnson, Hop Social’s 27-year-old dynamo of a general manager, who has opened five establishments in her short career. “Anything we can do to promote within Chandler is a big thing for us.”
Hop Social, with Oregon-based ownership, now is “almost back to normal,” she said. That means serving tap beer from Arizona breweries and locally sourced food in the from-scratch kitchen.
“Chandler still has a charming small-town vibe, a sense of community,” Johnson said. “Everybody knows everyone. We take care of each other. Our regulars supported us when we were nearly shut down by buying growlers and gift cards. Community support was just the greatest thing to get us by those couple of months.
“When we opened back up, we called back as many of our employees as we could to get going again.”
Hop Social Tavern: hopsocialtavern.com / 480-485-4677.
Courtyard by Marriott Phoenix Chandler
In his eight years as general manager of the Courtyard, at Interstate 10 and Ray Road, general manager Gary Lueck has seen many good times, particularly during robust winter seasons, when patrons come from colder climes not only to bask in desert winter warmth but also to enjoy seasonal activities, such as Cactus League baseball. The hotel is within walking distance of fine restaurants and shopping at upscale shops.
This past April, which typically brings 80 percent occupancy, the Courtyard was at 4.7 percent, Lueck said. Predictably, 70 percent of the workforce had to be furloughed, although its East Coast ownership was adamant that the property not be totally shut down.
Employment is now back to 55 percent, but bookings remain a slow go.
“We’re now at mid-20 percent occupancy when we should be should be 60 percent,” Lueck said. “October is our third-best month historically, flirting with 80 percent occupancy, but we’ll be fortunate to be at 30 percent.
“We are in the midst of renovation right now through early November, making pretty big changes. We’re converting 80 percent of our guest rooms to shower-only with no tub, and adding tiled entries instead of carpet. We’re tripling the size of the fitness center so it’s open to the courtyard with a 12-foot ceiling. And, for people in Chandler, we’re expanding meeting rooms that they can book.”
Lueck said among the positives that came from “I Choose Chandler” was the city loosening restrictions on who could book Chandler parks. He said the city was losing business to other cities that allowed out-of-town baseball and softball tournaments to book its parks.
“That will help tourism,” he said. “That’s a lot of room nights. There’s a lot about ‘I Choose Chandler’ that I do think make it an effective tool for local businesses.”
Courtyard by Marriott Phoenix/Chandler: marriott.com / 480-763-9500.
Chamber to distribute free ‘ I Choose Chandler’ PPE kits to Chandler businesses
The Chandler Chamber of Commerce, in contract with the city, will distribute “I Choose Chandler” personal protective equipment kits to Chandler businesses that qualify for the program, which launches this month.
The City Council authorized use of $500,000 of Arizona Cares Act funding for the purchase and distribution of the kits.
“Protecting public health has been Council’s top priority throughout the pandemic,” Chandler Mayor Kevin Hartke said. “The ‘I Choose Chandler’ PPE kit program is another way the city continues to create innovative programs to keep employees and patrons safe, while providing much-needed assistance to our business community.”
During the past nine months, the Chandler Chamber has advocated for the business community and kept it abreast of resources and funding during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“This is a great way to make sure our local businesses have the tools necessary to keep employees and clients within safety guidelines, ensuring a path forward to carry out business as usual,” said Terri Kimble, President/CEO of the Chandler Chamber. “The kits are on a first-come, first-serve basis and will be available until supplies are gone.”
PPE kits consist of two 50-count boxes of 3-ply non-medical face masks with ear-loops, one automatic dispenser stand and one gallon of hand sanitizer.
To be eligible for a PPE kit, Chandler businesses must be registered with the city and have 100 or fewer employees. Excluded from qualifying are non-profits, home-based businesses, vacation rentals, rentals of commercial property, internet-based businesses, kiosks or vending businesses and ride providers (Uber, Lyft or taxi services).
To apply for a PPE kit: visit chandlerchamber.com/i-choose-chandler-ppe-kits, click on the link to download the application, complete the application and email it to: firstname.lastname@example.org. The business will be contacted with a date and time to pick up the PPE kit.
Limit is one kit per company.