By Jeff Pack
Staff Writer 

Chamber CEO reflects on the year of COVID-19 and local business


Last updated 1/6/2021 at 1:27pm

Lila MacDonald

Village News/Shane Gibson photo

Fallbrook Chamber of Commerce CEO Lila MacDonald reflects back on 2020 in an interview with Village News.

Looking back on 2020, Fallbrook Chamber of Commerce Chief Executive Officer Lila MacDonald says one word comes to mind when she thinks about how the town handled the pandemic and all that came with it.

"The word that keeps coming to mind is resilient," she said in a phone interview. "When I went back and thought of everything, I think that we kind of forget things that we even went through. Especially in the beginning of 2020, when you look back at all the turmoil, not just COVID, because I think a lot of things happened this year. A lot of turmoil and then also just a lot of resiliency, a lot of people helping people.

"I always think things could be better. We're trying to work with people, whether it was in their own space or within a business, I think it would be stupid if we don't recognize the divide in our nation. I think we're kind of always – in Fallbrook – in a little bit of a bubble. I think this year people had to realize that we are a part of the bigger whole. COVID did affect us, business closures did affect us. And maybe other things that went on this year did affect us."

It wasn't an easy one for MacDonald either. Though it started pretty good.

In late February, it was announced that MacDonald would visit Sacramento in March to attend a luncheon and a state session at the Capitol where she would be honored as Woman of the Year by District 75 Assemblymember Marie Waldron.

Well, while she was still 2020's Woman of the Year for the district, COVID-19 and accompanying restrictions came in and ruined her Sacramento party.

A couple weeks later, MacDonald and her team had the unenviable task of announcing they had decided to cancel the annual Avocado Festival, Fallbrook's biggest event.

Then she and the team went about trying to support local businesses that had to close their doors with mandates and restrictions coming down from the State of California and San Diego County.

MacDonald said there are some businesses that won't come back when things normalize in the town – some by choice and some for financial reasons.

"A small percentage was closing because of COVID," she said. "Some people that we talked to did retire early. They weren't going to retire for a couple of years and kind of decided to do it this year because of COVID.

"A lot of people moved out. We had businesses that moved out of Fallbrook and out of California because of COVID and the economy being shut down. I think that fast forwarded a lot of people's plans, for sure."

She said she fears there will be more businesses closing their doors after this second shut down.

"The second shutdown is really going to be the one that we're going to see a lot more," MacDonald said. "I think that first shutdown was like, 'Okay, we can get through this, we can ride the tide.'

"But now that we're in a second shutdown ... on Christmas, people were closed, which is typically a very, very big, booming retail time where people can shop and buy and get the stores through what are normally January, February, March, slow months.

"In this first quarter, I think that's probably where we're going to see a bit more of how it's affecting them. Restaurants will close, businesses will close permanently."

MacDonald said businesses that can move back to a home-based business without a brick and mortar location will do that as well.

"I think you'll see that too, so that it's saving money," she said. "A lot of those retail businesses, businesses that rely on the holidays to get through it, besides grocery stores and online stores, aren't gonna see that much (profit)."

She said she has heard stories from local artists and online-based businesses that are doing exceptionally well in recent months. She said she feels like Fallbrookians have tried their best to support local businesses when and how they can.

"We have a farmer's market on Saturdays and that was a whole thing of shopping local," MacDonald said. "And I feel like the retail shops that were open, people were consciously shopping local. They were going online and buying from Etsy and buying unique gifts and stuff like that. I talked to one restaurant where somebody came in and got a ton of gift certificates from them. People are just rethinking what those gifts would be and rethinking how to support, which in my eyes, we probably should've been doing the entire time."

She said she knows of another business that sold to a new owner in the middle of COVID, as well.

"For a business to have good enough numbers to sell during COVID, that's pretty extraordinary to me," MacDonald said.

Going forward, she said, the chamber will continue to work with businesses to help them in any way possible.

"As a chamber of commerce we will be continuing to offer resources, to get people what they need, whether it's more PPP or whether it's just networking to get out there," MacDonald said. "Some of those things will look differently, right? We have our business expo that does things online. We have a Zoom call tonight, it's kind of like our happy hours Zoom call. It's more lighthearted. I feel like there is a little bit of therapy in networking, right? Where you get to ask people how they're doing or what they need."

She said that it is likely that the Avocado Festival will have to be skipped again in 2021, but there may be a silver lining to that too.

"When we get to 2022, one of the things I really want to add is more agriculture, add more hometown Fallbrook, (make it) a bit smaller than it has grown to be and have it be more authentically Fallbrook."

Personally, MacDonald tries to find the silver lining in her life, and she said in some ways, the pandemic has been a gift, or a learning experience at least.

"My heart hurts for everybody that that was really affected financially," she said. "On the other end, I think that 2020 really allowed for physical growth, for mental growth, and for spiritual growth. A time for you to get some of those to-do list things done, whether it was planting a garden or meditating or getting out and exercising or retiring. Even that business plan you never thought you wanted to change and this forced that change. I think for me, at least personally, 2020 offered a lot of growth."

Jeff Pack can be reached by email at [email protected]


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