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LGBT Chamber of Commerce hosts 'Business Is Open' panel
by Melissa Wasserman

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The LGBT Chamber of Commerce of Illinois hosted the virtual panel event "Business Is Open: A Conversation With LGBTQ+ Business Owners" on June 23.

LGBT Chamber of Commerce of Illinois Director Jerome' Holston led the panel, which included Dean Ricker, president of Skolnik Industries, LLC; Roxanna Daniel, CEO of TAJ Development Corporation; and Jayson Mamaclay, co-founder of Fuzzy Logic Escape Room. Business owner and activist Art Johnston (of the Lake View nightspot Sidetrack) shared a few words as the guest speaker.

After the event, Holston told Windy City Times the panelists represented the variety of members the chamber has.

"This was a way to really be able to inspire our members," said Holston of the panel event. "To let folks know there's an option for you; these are things that you too can do. We've seen so many stories and examples of how businesses have closed and we know, even more so, that businesses that are owned by minorities, women, LGBTQ folks are likely to be more impacted, especially from a financial point of view. So, being able to show three examples from three different industries, from three different backgrounds, I thought would, hopefully, get people excited about how they could look at their business and then be able to figure out how they can move forward."

Viewers tuned into the event on Facebook as it was broadcast live. Panelists spoke about the impact of COVID-19 on their businesses, protections and safety measures they have provided for their employees, how they have supported their employees during the time of COVID-19 and their future plans, among other details and thoughts.

"When folks started talking about COVID, I took it pretty seriously and we actually held our first planning meeting in February for COVID," said Ricker during the panel, who prefaced this with having an obsession for the '80s movie Red Dawn as a teenager, which created "doomsday prepper" part of his brain. "Almost immediately, we started having anybody that could work from home like sales or customer service staff, started working from home."

He added one of the strategies Skolnik Industries took to keep employees safe, was splitting the company into two groups, one that worked the first half of week and the other, the second half of week. Employees worked 30 hours per week, performed 40 hours-worth of work and still got their regular paychecks, according to Ricker.

"I think the social distancing really helped keep the numbers down," Ricker said. "We did have 10% of our staff with positive test results, but none were traced to internal transmission. So that was one thing that was really important."

"As an employer you have to instill that, and we made it a point to instill that COVID is real, especially for the Black community," said Daniel during the panel. "Our employees are Black people and it's hard to stress enough that this is serious and it's the underlying conditions that cause the most heartache."

Personal protective equipment (PPE), housekeeping, OSHA standards, social distancing, creating different schedules, temperature checks, company-wide communication and self-care were among the items mentioned of ways to keep the case numbers down.

"I think it's also equally important for business owners and leaders to be able to hear from their peers, regardless of their industry or size, to feel like they can gain assurance or comfort that other people are going through the same issues," said Mamaclay. "Other people are coming up with similar solutions, other people are handling these topics in ways that can either affirm or inspire and being able to get that knowledge through channels like this when more traditional ways like these meetups … aren't accessible right now."

Panelists answered a few additional outside questions. A raffle was also held.

"What I love most about it is the energy of the participants and being able to hear their stories and they can say, 'Oh, wow—I can do that' or 'Oh, wow—I should've done that,'" said Daniel of being part of an event like this. "Especially as a lesbian in a community of businesses, that sometimes it just feels really, really lonely. Honestly, it just feels like you're the only one out there and to be able to come into a situation or to participate in a panel like this with other LGBTQ community members who are running businesses and successfully running businesses and holding their heads up high during a time that a lot of people are folding."

Mamaclay spoke on financial resources a pop and pop store, like his, could get during the trying times.

"So, making sure that we're preparing ourselves to be financially sound took a lot of introspection, connections with some business advisors, including folks that I've chatted with here through the Chamber of Commerce and chats with our accountant and legal, as well," said Mamaclay during the panel.

Explaining how he loves trying to be a cheery, all-smiles kind of guy, it was a frustrating experience. In April, his business got funding.

Panelists told Windy City Times they hoped people took away some helpful tips from the conversation. Daniel advised to move in caution with others, but keep moving; Mamaclay said, "Tap into advisors who are well-educated in what they do in helping you craft a strategy."

"The fact that this isn't over and we got to keep our guard up, we got to keep trudging along because the minute we really start acting like Arizona or Florida … it has a huge impact on our businesses," Ricker added. "I think all three of us right now, we're enjoying the benefits of playing by the rules in Chicago and Illinois. ... I really don't look forward to having to roll back to what we were doing because it was hard. [We] just got to keep up the good fight."

To watch the event recorded on Facebook Live, visit To learn more about LGBT Chamber of Commerce of Illinois, visit .

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