It’s hard to believe we’ve passed the one-year mark since our world was turned upside down. This past year has been difficult on so many levels, but we’ve come a long way, and, dare I say, we are moving in the right direction. Although this year will have its share of challenges, I’m choosing to be optimistic.

I’m not a “Pollyanna girl,” but I can’t help but feel hopeful. Spring is just around the corner, and by its very nature, spring brings fresh hope and new beginnings. But my hope comes from seeing individuals and communities coming together to make the world a better place. From small acts of kindness to awe-inspiring initiatives, we’re witnessing humanity at its best.

Lockdown has given families a chance to return to the days when family time was the most important part of the day. Families are getting “back to basics” and having dinner-table conversations, playing board games, and creating new traditions will continue for years to come.

The pandemic has inspired an outpouring of public appreciation for both frontline and essential workers. From grocery clerks and delivery drivers to first responders and health-care workers at all levels, admiration and respect has increased ten-fold.

But as a chamber director, what excites me the most is the renewed desire to support local businesses. Consumers are seeing neighborhood businesses struggle and they really want to help. “Shop Local” appears to be more of a symbol of solidarity rather than a slogan, and shifting dollars from big box stores to local businesses seems to be not only popular, but on trend. More shoppers are going out of their way to buy from local businesses, even if they have to pick up their order or wait a little longer for delivery.

Social media isn’t considered a reliable source for fact-finding, but when you see hundreds of local folks recommending local businesses … and posting photos and reviews on Facebook, it’s easy to see that support for local business is stronger than ever. Dedicated groups like “Takeout 25 Oak Park” were created to give people a platform to ask for and give restaurant recommendations. You’ll find folks commenting on a meal they ordered from a restaurant they’ve never patronized — and giving great reviews. All this amazing “free” publicity is coming from consumers who want to see local businesses survive. Facebook has only been a thing for the last 17 years, but I’ve never seen support like this in my 27 years on the job.

We still have a way to go, and your support of local businesses remains key to their success. Our eyes have been opened and we’ve learned a lot. If we continue along this path, we can effect real change.