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Collinsville "pulls together" in COVID-19 response

On Saturdays, Melody Chastain gets an early start.  The secretary for Collinsville Trade Day typically starts her Saturday mornings at 4 a.m.

She needs an early start, as Chastain manages “1,000 to 1,200 dealers, and up to 50,000 shoppers” at Trade Day in a time period of about eight hours. In March, however, her Saturdays began to look very different.

Stay- at- home orders and quarantine initiatives in effect in all areas of the state in response to the global COVID-19 pandemic hit small local businesses, especially in a town like Collinsville, hard.

One such business is Trade Day, Collinsville’s large outdoor flea market, which Chastain said is a place where shoppers “can find anything” from delicious corndogs to beautiful flowers to livestock. The dealers who sell these items are mostly self-employed, making and selling their goods mainly at flea markets like Trade Day.

After Trade Day closed in March, however, Chastain stated that many of these dealers were unemployed and not able to file for any business loans because of either their self-employed status or their lack of awareness about how to go about applying.

She said, “I don’t know if they didn’t know how or if it was available.” She said the lack of public announcements or mail notices about the loans left some in the area not as aware of loan possibilities as they could have been.   

Chastain, who was also a Trade Day dealer herself, said she was “out of work for two months” but luckily was able to take advantage of some business loans.

Trade Day reopened with social distancing precautions on May 2, and Chastain said that most of the customers and the loyal dealers have returned each week, eager to visit what she describes as the “Walmart of Dekalb County” and maybe even get some of her homemade vanilla ice cream.

Elsewhere in Collinsville, Rebecca Clayton, volunteer at the Collinsville Historical Society and Collinsville History Museum, said the staff at the local non-profit are used to being tight on funds. Clayton said, “We have nickeled- and- dimed before.” 

The Historical Association, as well as the museum, are run through both donations of “many, many volunteer hours” and donations of money and even family heirlooms that make a statement about the town’s past.

According to Clayton, “It is not our purpose to charge people. Our purpose is to collect and preserve documents” and other aspects of the town’s history.

While losing money due to stay-at-home orders was not a challenge for the CHA, they faced their own set of difficulties.

Clayton explained that reaching citizens of Collinsville remotely during the three months that the museum was forced to close and keeping their interest in learning about the history of their town brought some struggle to the CHA volunteers, especially when trying to reach young people.

 Many of the in-person events that attracted people to the museum, like the annual fourth grade field trip from the students at the Collinsville school, were canceled. Clayton said she felt “time was taken out of our world” as COVID “put everything on hold.”

However, she said she is hopeful that open-air events like the community’s annual Turkey Trot can still be held with masks and that Collinsville’s “true community spirit” will still be maintained during this time of national crisis.

Lana Cosby, manager of Collinsville Florist, described her struggle of balancing the needs of the business with the need to keep her employees and customers safe. Collinsville Florist is a branch of Centre Florist, in the town of Centre, Alabama.  The Collinsville flower store opened up in January, just two months before the COVID crisis.

Cosby said the past few months have been “crazy” but noted that, because of the shop’s status as an agricultural business through the sale of flowers, they did not have to fully close up both locations.

However, she stated that they did choose to close the Collinsville location for some time during the thick of the crisis and only work out of Centre to “make sure we are doing things the safe way” for both employees and customers.

This decision not only made customers safer because it allowed them to have the option of a no-contact delivery method, but it also kept employees and wholesale vendors from having to be exposed to as many people while they are doing “something to brighten the customer’s day.”

Luckily, Cosby, with Mother’s Day and other spring holidays attracting customers, opened Collinsville Florist back up in April, allowing customers to return while maintaining 6 feet of social distance.

From Trade Day to the museum to small businesses, Cosby said she appreciates how local people are responding, noting, “Whether it is a good thing or an unfortunate thing, everyone pulls together.”


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