By LINDA CHION KENNEY
Highly anticipated grand openings and events are set to make their mark in Riverview, despite the COVID-19 challenge that has businesses rethinking how they serve their markets in light of the emerging realities of the day.
Set to open in late August or early September is the Cracker Barrel Old Country Store restaurant in Gibsonton, next door to the GDQ Riverview 14 GDX multiplex, at 9370 Theater Drive, according to Tanya Doran, executive director of the Greater Riverview Chamber of Commerce (GRCC). Set to open in September, she added, is Tiki Docks River Bar & Grill, on the south bank of the Alafia River just east of U.S. 301, at 10708 Palmetto St.
Newly opened in Riverview is the Pink Door Bakery, at 11266 Boyette Road, and in the works is the chamber’s reimagined Teaching to Excellence event for teachers new to the profession and to area schools, as well as the annual race for honorary mayor of Riverview.
Meanwhile, the replacement Riverview library under construction at 10003 Balm Riverview Road, which had been set to open in late summer, is expected to open later this year. “As far as I know, this type of partnership would be the first in Hillsborough County,” Doran said, about the chamber’s expected lease for space in the $12.6 million, 5,000 square-foot building and its 1940’s Florida coastal vibe design. “The library is in a beautiful location, and having space for the chamber brings a business-friendly, community center element to the project. It’s a win, win, win for everybody.”
Keeping track of it all are the chamber’s board and staff, led by long-time Executive Director Doran, an East Bay High School graduate, who said in this era of uncertainty creative new ways of operating have become essential.
“COVID-19 is a horrible and impactful disease, and we have to deal with that,” Doran said. “It has required creativity and innovation to pivot to something that will be more beneficial in the long run for our businesses and organizations.”
Count among them the chamber itself, which recently ended a month-long virtual Taste of GRCC, a reimagining of the in-person taste that the chamber held each year in June at its monthly membership meeting, where food and beverage businesses provided drink and bite-sized food samples.
This year, the chamber opened the event to the general public, including non-member residents and businesses, hosting the event online at Facebook to keep in step with coronavirus concerns and social-distancing requirements.
Ending July 23, the event drew 419 posts from participants taking photos of themselves dining in or eating out, with food delivered or picked up at curbside from participating businesses, according to chamber officials. Google reviews for participating businesses were requested as well, resulting in more than 1,300 such postings, Doran said. Seventy-one food establishments participated, and close to 70 winners received prizes, she added, which collectively amounted to more than $2,000 in gift certificates and cash.
“Talk about the ‘wow’ factor; this was our community coming together to make that happen,” Doran said. “The chamber was just the vehicle.”
Moving forward, the chamber has put together a COVID-19 task force, comprised of board members seeking the advice of others, including medical professionals, “to make sure what we’re doing is keeping our members, staff and community safe,” Doran said, in a July 31 interview. “Our board of directors opted not to do in-person events at this time, primarily because Hillsborough County [positivity] rates are still high.”
That means this year’s annual Teaching to Excellence event, founded by Earl Lennard, former chamber board member and Hillsborough County school superintendent, has been replaced by a virtual event.
“We went back to the businesses that had supported this event for many years and asked them to help us help our schools in a different way,” Doran said. “We talked to principals, as well, to reimagine the event,” which in its traditional form had been scheduled for Aug. 5 at the Regent.
As a result, businesses now pay a small fee to sponsor one of 28 public and charter schools in the Greater Riverview community, including Riverview and Spoto high schools and Rodgers and Giunta middle schools. Social media videos highlighting that support were to be posted starting the week of Aug. 3.
“Our intent at this year’s Aug. 5 event was to do a nice recognition for Dr. Lennard, who died in January, and to remind people of the scholarship started in his memory,” Doran said. Such a tribute will be held at a later date, she added.
Meanwhile, the chamber is gearing up for the annual race for honorary mayor of Riverview, open to chamber member candidates, who, in turn, select one or more nonprofit chamber members to support. The chamber also collects a percentage of race proceeds.
“The expectation is for candidates to plan for in-person events to raise money,” Doran said, “but the candidates also have to have a plan in place to switch to virtual events if needed.”
The candidate sign-up period runs from Sept. 1 through Sept. 15. The race itself runs from Oct. 27 through Dec. 8.
Visit the chamber at Suite 102, in the CenterState Bank building at 10101 Bloomingdale Ave. Visit online at www.RiverviewChamber.com or call 813-234-5944.