When the COVID-19 pandemic slowed down business at Carter Myers Automotive dealerships, the business switched gears to help out community members.
Carter Myers created a community helpline and used their cars and staff to pick up groceries and medications or run other errands for people. The dealership had remained open because it was considered an essential business, but the service business and car sales dropped off.
“So associates were coming in each day and people were kind of just standing around without a whole lot to do,” said Liza Borches, president and CEO of Carter Myers. “But our team was committed to being there. We knew we needed to be there for our customers.”
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Borches was named the 2020 Business Leader of the Year by the Charlottesville Regional Chamber of Commerce in recognition of those efforts.
She said the award was more about her team.
“I think being able to recognize our team and thank them for everything that they did to give back during these times when nobody really knew what to do and how to chart through these waters is awesome,” she said.
More than a dozen other area businesses also received awards during the Chamber’s Rebound Ball, which focused on how businesses responded and persevered during the COVID-19 pandemic. The Chamber launched Project Rebound in April as a way to aid local businesses and find solutions to the recovering from the pandemic.
Sober Pierre and Javier Figueroa-Ray of Pearl Island Café and Catering won the Christopher Lee Small Business Person of the Year Award.
The Chamber typically honors a business leader and a small business, but this year, they expanded their awards to recognize more local individuals, businesses and nonprofits who were nominated by the business community for their collaboration, innovation and determination during the pandemic.
The Alley-Oops awards went to Quinton Harrell of Heritage United Builders and Wilson Richey of Ten Course Hospitality in recognition of their assistance to other businesses, according to the Chamber.
Recognizing those who adapted their operations to the pandemic, the Pivot Awards went to Animal Connection, Bright Ideas, Brooks Family YMCA, Chick-Fil-A at Fashion Square, Culinary Concepts AB, Jefferson Area Board for Aging, King Family Vineyards, Michie Tavern and Virginia Institute of Autism.
Wednesday’s virtual ceremony included video messages from the award winners as well as a conversation between Chamber president Elizabeth Cromwell and Priya Parker, author of “The Art of Gathering.”
Remarks from Pierre and Figueroa-Ray with Pearl Island Café and Catering and Borches finished the evening.
“Thank you for selecting us as a small business person of the year,” Pierre said. “We know that we couldn’t do this without the support of our community that has allowed us to make it through such an interesting time.”
In introducing Borches, Cromwell said she was an outstanding business person and community leader.
“Her leadership in 2020 has been extraordinary, adapting to the business challenges of the pandemic while reaching out to support community members in need,” she said.
Carter Myers’ helpline lasted for a few months. In addition to helping community members, the team also assisted with Meals on Wheels deliveries when the organization was in need of volunteers and vehicles, Borches said. They also volunteered with the PB&J Fund, which gave out meals on Fridays to area families.
“We had people, we had cars, and we had time,” she said in an interview about the effort.
As business at the dealerships picked up, they added extra measures to keep people safe, such as picking up and dropping off cars in need of service to limit the number of people in their buildings.
Borches said she hoped the award would help inspire people who are exhausted and have been working hard.
“Any time we can recognize efforts, it just inspires you to want to do more and realize that you’re making a difference and that it’s worth it,” she said. “It’s really awesome of the Chamber to give out so many awards this year to recognize businesses who have really been focused on how we keep giving back and how we help our community get through this together.”
Reflecting on the last several months, Borches said it’s important for companies to have to have a really strong mission, vision and values.
“Because this year has really required us to go down to the depths of the foundation of who we are as a company and who we are as a team,” she said. “I know that the companies that I see getting recognized this year from the Chamber all have strong core values and foundations that they’re built on. I think we’re going to get through anything if we can get through this year.”