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Athabasca chamber leaves 2020 behind

“2020 has been a ride people,” says acclaimed president Tova Schwede

ATHABASCA – Tova Schwede will continue to lead the Athabasca District Chamber of Commerce (ADCC) through 2021 as president after she was acclaimed to the position at the organization’s annual general meeting (AGM) last week. 

There were about 25 windows open for the virtual Zoom AGM Feb. 10, where the executive and board of directors were chosen for the coming year, members got a look at financials for 2020, and the president delivered a year-in-review report for a year many in the business community would probably like to forget. 

“Last year was a roller coaster ride with plenty of ups and downs, lots of twists and turns and upside-down loops for everyone, both in business and on a personal level. I just want to say, we're surviving. With all the uncertainty, stress, frustrations, and ever-changing government restrictions and regulations. We're surviving. And that is something we should celebrate,” said Schwede, who manages the boom 94.1 radio station. 

Just a week after the 2020 AGM, it was evident things were going to be different. Schwede recalled the board having to make a quick decision about the upcoming trade show, which was scheduled for April. Like most large events, it was cancelled. 

Executive meetings have been held via Zoom since then. 

She also pointed out another usually consistent source of revenue where the chamber receives of portion of the sales when travelers book their trips through the organization, which partners with other chambers to provide low group rates. Everything booked for 2020 and 2021 was cancelled or postponed, she said. 

Canada Day is always one of the biggest events of the year, and the chamber is a big part of that. Athabascans did celebrate, but things were different with a reverse parade and physically-distanced fireworks at the River Front. 

“The reverse parade had more than 100 cars, many of them decorated much like the businesses in the downtown core. They followed our traditional parade route, honking their horns and celebrating Canada Day in a new way,” said Schwede. 

The community customer appreciation breakfast was called off in July, as was the mayor and reeve’s breakfast in September. In August, Schwede noted a new fundraising committee was formed to figure out how to navigate COVID and the resulting government regulations. 

In October, the annual business awards took place virtually, as the group continued to make good use of social media channels to connect and communicate with the community. Schwede and executive assistant Jenn Oba visited all the winners personally and posted live to Facebook, over two days, as they presented each award. 

“The experience as a whole was wonderful, and I can't thank everyone enough for helping make this happen,” said Schwede. 

The annual Moonlight Madness shop local promotion also took on a new form in November, as the usual parade was cancelled, but there was a fireworks show at the River Front. The chamber also organized a community and business support online auction for the Christmas season that brought in more than $10,000. 

As could be expected though, overall, revenue was down. Sales and events revenue reached $43,895 in 2019, while total revenue sat at $57,829. In 2020, sales and events brought in just $16,019, and total revenue for the year was at $44,627, thanks to more than twice as many donations as 2019 and a grant from the provincial government. 

Expenditures were down significantly as well at $46,902, but the group still came up a little short with a $2,275 deficit, but had retained earnings of $11,229 when all was said and done for 2020. The projected revenue for 2021 is $45,915. 

“2020 has been a ride people,” said Schwede. “It's touched parents with kids and homeschooling, it's touched businesses with figuring out ways to protect their staff and protect their customers. In my own opinion, my own belief is this community knocked the ball out of the park. They did a wonderful job. And I can only imagine the stresses and frustrations that they all went through.” 

Joining Schwede on the executive this year is first vice president Carol Alberts from Home Hardware and Eunice Reichstein from ATB will be second vice president. Jeffrey Ello from Athabasca Husky will serve as treasurer, and Jennifer Sharron from Follow Your Dream Stampers will be secretary. 

The board of directors will consist of eight individuals this year: Penny Semashkewich (Penny’s Headquarters), John Traynor (Town of Athabasca), Pat Corkish (Servus Credit Union), John Semashkewich (Great Canadian Oil Change), Rick Baksza (Trident Pumps), Todd Dutchak (Select Equipment Rentals), Jason Smith (Blue Lagoon Computers) and Brenda Skayman (Rae Lee Unique Designs).