HUDSON — The coronavirus pandemic has led to countless closures and cancellations, and now the annual Best of Columbia County ceremony has been added to the growing list.
Co-hosted by the Columbia County Chamber of Commerce and Columbia-Greene Media, the event would have marked its seventh year in 2020.
“We have a lot of businesses that are closing or struggling to stay open, and this is not the time to have a celebration of the best of our county given the global pandemic,” said Jeffrey Hunt, president and CEO of the Columbia County Chamber of Commerce.
Each year, the public is given the opportunity to cast ballots for their favorite businesses around the county, from restaurants to movie theaters, gyms, wineries and more. There are also specific awards in categories such as “Best Place to Network and Relax,” “Best Place for Wings” and “Best Car Service,” among dozens of others.
After two rounds of voting, representatives from the top three choices in each category are invited to a gala event. Last year’s festivities were held at PS21 Performing Arts Space in Chatham.
The Best of Columbia County gives residents the chance to honor those businesses they deem as their favorites.
But this year’s pandemic, and the statewide closing of nonessential businesses beginning in mid-March, posed unprecedented challenges.
“Our priority is the safety of our residents and nominees,” said Mary Dempsey, publisher and general manager of Columbia-Greene Media. “At this point, it would be inappropriate considering the business landscape during the COVID-19 crisis in Columbia County.”
Typically, voting begins in April, and the gala is held in June, but the shutdown made planning a big event difficult. The event was initially postponed to later in the year, but now has been canceled.
“Last year we had 300 people attending, and there are no guidelines for having that many people,” Hunt said. “Right now we are up to 50 people for gatherings, so we decided to just start again next year.”
A new date for the 2021 Best of Columbia County has not been scheduled.
“It’s unfortunate, but we are trying to be responsible and we want to be sensitive to businesses that are struggling to reopen, and those that won’t be able to reopen,” Hunt said.
While many businesses and industries have been cleared by the state to reopen, at least in a limited fashion, for many, opening with restrictions and limited capacity does not make good business sense.
“Even with the capacity and with indoor and outdoor dining, their margins won’t allow them to reopen because of staffing, the cost of products, so they decided they won’t reopen until they can have full capacity,” Hunt said.
Some businesses are not expected to reopen at all, and have been closed for good, Hunt said.
While the gala event and awards ceremony are usually held in June, organizers initially postponed it until the fall, but this week made the decision to cancel it altogether for 2020.
“We attempted to push it back to September, but with future guidelines unclear, it would be irresponsible to hold a large gathering,” Dempsey said. “It is disappointing that we cannot hold an event to recognize our business community that has been through so much this year, but we continue to support it every day by focusing on shopping local. We look forward to next year’s Best of Columbia County event.”