With businesses suffering from “social distancing” during the COVID-19 crisis, support to keep local stores, shops and offices open in the Chatham Borough/Township has been essential. Many residents have taken to social media and other outlets to help businesses thrive during this period.

One such individual is Michelle Lease, from Chatham, who has been doing just that. This she has done by creating a Facebook page, Keep Chatham Thriving, and a website, www.shopchathamnj.com; both dedicated to the promotion of local businesses in the Chathams.

“Since Chatham doesn’t have a Chamber of Commerce, and given everything going on, one is needed more than ever,” said Lease.

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“I was inspired by the work that Liz Bernich and Gina Mcguire have done with the [FLAG of Chatham and Madison] initiative. I decided to create the website: shopchathamnj.com that would serve as a chamber-like page highlighting the businesses and provide a central location for information with a fundraising component. I’ve been in contact with the town and they have been very supportive of my efforts.”

Lease has background experience in marketing and public relations with many years spent in economic development and store operations. Aside from work, she has been on the board of the Summit Junior League for Communications, PTO president of Washington Avenue School and currently volunteers on numerous committees for her own children’s schools.

“I love volunteering and helping others,” said Lease. “I’m one of those constant brainstorming and idea-type people, so this is a great creative outlet for me. I’ve put my business, an online shop called The Nantucket Collection on the back burner for now, so I can help the Chatham businesses. Since my world is the online one, I’ve been giving the businesses a crash course on selling on social media and sharing best practices.”

Since its creation on April 7th, Keep Chatham Thriving and ShopChathamNJ has helped give a boost to a variety of businesses, such as restaurants and eateries, gift shops, pharmacies, art galleries, flower shops, toy shops, and hair salons. Lease devotes her time teaching business owners online and selling techniques and other venues to help them promote their business.

“It’s really a win-win for everyone involved,” said Lease.

“Stores need to continue to move merchandise to survive and residents still need the shops for Easter basket gifts, birthday presents, and so on. All the Chatham businesses have spent so much time and money investing in their shops, it would be devastating to see them not survive during this time. From my conversations with them, they need immediate help right now to keep afloat. They are scared and some are not sure they will be able to survive this. And many smaller ones that do not have full-time employees don’t qualify for the CARE act. My hope is that my efforts will help give them a little needed influx of cash and move inventory and help the restaurants increase their carry out orders.”

Keep Chatham Thriving and ShopChathamNJ also act as a venue for businesses to give updates on one another and share the news as they get the word out for the trades. This also encourages some businesses to change their tactics.

“The key to success is that our community follows all these businesses on their Instagram and Facebook pages to see what they are selling online. Also, if they can follow Keep Chatham Thriving to be kept up to date on all the business news to support them. Maybe instead of waiting until June to buy that birthday gift, purchase it now to help the businesses or purchase a gift certificate for a future purchase. Businesses are realizing they have to make a shift in their thinking and adapt to the social media selling world. If any town can do it, it’s Chatham. We are so lucky to have such a strong community that is willing to go the extra mile.”

The results of both social media outlets have produced great results. Shops have been able to post what they have and have been able to continue business during the COVID-19 crisis. Some Chatham residents have even discovered businesses that they never knew existed

Success stories…I’ve posted about a couple local shops and what they have to offer, and a couple of people commented they purchased take home paint kits from the Main Street shop-I’m Ready to Paint. Also, people after seeing the site, said they learned of businesses they never knew existed. All the businesses have responded very positively to this and are very appreciative.

“My goal is to touch every business in all the Chatham’s in some way,” said Lease, as she continues to support the Chathams’ business community.

“Lastly, I’m working on a fundraising campaign for them through links to purchase gift cards from the businesses on ShopChathamNJ. Many more will be coming in this week with links. Hopefully this will help inject some needed funds into the various businesses.”

To learn more about Keep Chatham Keeping, visit their Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/keepchathamthriving/.

To learn more about ShopChathamNJ, visit their website at https://www.shopchathamnj.com/.