One local Maury County photographer used her talents to bring the community even closer together amid the pandemic.
When COVID-19 restrictions temporarily shuttered several small businesses in 2020, one Maury County photographer used her talents to make a difference. Through a series of photographs, she not only told a story, but she connected with fellow residents and brought the community even closer together.
A Picture Perfect Idea
“As a freelance photographer, I’m a small business myself, and when COVID hit, all of the jobs I had on the calendar were gone, so I was also experiencing this loss. But you sit on it for a minute, and you realize that this is nothing you’ve experienced before and no one else has either, so we’re all in the same boat,” says Sarah B. Gilliam.
Gilliam says while she didn’t have a lot of money to give to other struggling businesses, what she did have was time and talent, so she started taking professional portraits of owners in front of their businesses. She figured the owners could use the free photos to promote their businesses on social media or to use for advertising and marketing materials.
As news of Gilliam’s generosity spread, so did demand, and, by the end of summer 2020, Gilliam had photographed more than 150 small businesses.
“Creating this project humanized what we were all going through. It really reminded us that these businesses are run by people who have families and who have lives. They’re our neighbors.”
Sarah B. Gilliam
She even secured a grant to print the portraits on giant vinyl stickers and install them on the sidewalks in downtown Columbia. Another small business, Muletown Digital, donated web services to create an online gallery for the portraits.
“Creating this project humanized what we were all going through. It really reminded us that these businesses are run by people who have families and who have lives. They’re our neighbors. These are the people who decided not to take the safe route, and even when things are tough, they go and stand up for their businesses and are proud of them. That’s incredible to me,” she says.
Support & Innovation
Another business, The Dotted Lime, a gluten-free restaurant in Columbia owned by Paul and Chrissy Jensen, also gave back to their community during this time. Along with partner Davis Brothers Roofing, the restaurant provided e-certificates to help feed those out of work in the hospitality industry.
To participate, applicants filled out an online form and, once approved, received an electronic Dotted Lime gift certificate that they could use in the restaurant or for family and bulk meals.
If You Go: 1907 Shady Brook St., Columbia, TN 38401
Thinking Inside the Box
When COVID-19 restrictions forced ēlia, a toxin-free day spa, to close, owner Nichole Nace switched gears, creating Quarantine Facial Kits to “bring the spa to customers.” Soon, she was shipping kits all over the country.
To help keep pace with demand, Nace applied for and was awarded a grant from the Maury County Small Business Stabilization Fund. Founded by the Maury County Chamber & Economic Alliance and supported by regional businesses, the fund helped more than 100 small businesses with expenses while they waited for federal and state relief.
“The support we received from the community is like no other. From encouraging emails to monetary donations to help with expenses that did not stop when we were closed. I’ve never seen anything like it,” Nace says.
Nace also created the Columbia Cares Box — a mystery box filled with items purchased from local businesses that customers could purchase on the ēlia website.
“When a customer purchased a box, they knew they would be supporting at least three or four local businesses without ever having to leave their home,” Nace says.
Innovative thinking and flexibility helped keep many of the county’s businesses afloat in 2020. For example, Froggy’s Fog, which manufactures theatrical effects fluids, shifted its focus and began producing hand sanitizer.
“Maury County is an incubator for great ideas,” Gilliam says. “We’re not afraid to let people have their idea and try it. And, if they succeed, we all cheer, and if they don’t, we wish them well.”
If You Go:
28 Public Square, Columbia, TN 38401
Local First Gift Card Program Supports Area Businesses
In Maury County, it is easy to see that the locals come first, from the residents who live here to the companies that keep the business sector churning.
To help promote local businesses and keep dollars within the community, the Maury County Chamber & Economic Alliance offers Local First Gift Cards, which can be used at any of the more than 40 participating retailers and restaurants in the county.
A few participating businesses include Bleu 32, The Dotted Lime, Pie Sensations, Ye Peddler, Wear it Well, Puckett’s, Ted’s and Smith & York Co.
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Unlike a VISA gift card, the money is guaranteed to stay in Maury County and support a local business.
The cards are available in $10 or $25 increments and must be used in one transaction. Merchants, however, can choose to offer store credit for remaining balances.
To purchase a gift card, visit the Maury County Chamber & Economic Alliance in person at 106 W. Sixth St. in Columbia or call 931-388-2155. All major credit cards, cash and checks are accepted.
Find more information on the gift cards at mauryalliance.com/local-first-cards.