WOW.

When we decided to do a Reader’s Choice contest, we truly didn’t know what to expect. To us, it was a new and exciting opportunity to interact with our readers. It was also a great opportunity in the socially distant days we are living in for all of us to thank the small businesses and professionals that make our communities the vibrant places we all love.

There was a learning curve for us as we navigated the online nominating and voting tools and got everything situated on our website. In July, we opened the contest for nominations and received 1,811 nominations. The ballot was formed with the businesses or individuals who received the highest number of nominations with a limit of five people for each category.

After the nominations were set, we opened up the ballot for voting August 19. Voting ended September 10 at noon. People could vote once a day during the contest. We received a total of 27,459 votes!

We are tabulating the results and will announce the winners and finalists in a special section October 21. We ask for your indulgence as we work to make a section worth of the Reader’s Choice contest.

In many ways, the contest reaffirmed several things we have long known to be true.

Our community has a rich and vibrant small business and professional base. It is apparent by the nominations and votes that we have businesses that have gained and kept a loyal following of customers and clients.

Our readers are connected to their community. We know this by their interest and support of our newspaper, website and social media page. Each week, in print and online, we have the largest single audience of any media. Over 16,800 connect with us each and every week.

But the contest revealed a new layer of interest to us, but I think it speaks to the larger sense of community and extended family in our community.

This bond of family love has been tested in the past six months. The coronavirus and subsequent economic and social fallout from the lockdown have been challenging, to say the least, to the vast majority of businesses, including ours.

The last estimate I saw was a prediction that one on five businesses – 20 % – will not survive. That’s a truly staggering number in our community.

Some will say the virus has simply hastened long term trends that were visible before March. While I can understand that argument on an intellectual level, I think that thinking smells more than a little.

Simply put, no one can predict the future. Small businesses have continually found ways to overcome, innovate and evolve. A business may be fundamentally changed in the way it delivers goods and services, the actual products may remain unchanged.

In my thinking, this means we simply must all exercise our personal responsibility and put our money where our mouths are in the coming months. It is no longer enough to share something on social media and bask in the glow of our superiority. Actions, not words, are needed to keep our businesses, and by extension our communities, open and thriving.

Followers and likes may be important to many, but they won’t pay the bills.

Thanks to all who helped make the Best Of a success. Let’s take the next step and make these businesses the most successful.

As always, I welcome your comments. You can reach me by email at tstangl@theameryfreepress.com, telephone 715-268-8101 or write me at P.O. Box 424, Amery, WI, 54001.

Thanks for reading I’ll keep in touch. Feel free to do the same.

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