A ‘Pulse Poll’ was put out by the Charles City Chamber of Commerce between July 2-15 to test the city’s opinions on upcoming events and the city’s comfort levels in the pandemic’s ‘new reality’. There were 683 responses representing about 9 percent of the community’s population.
Director Mark Wicks says the poll results were a bit shocking in a couple of areas.
The poll’s main takeaways were as follows:
- Only 33.8 percent said they would attend a large outdoor event with appropriate social distancing guidelines in place. Another 15.7 percent said they wanted to wait another month or two, while 28.5 percent said it would be 3-9 months before they felt comfortable enough to attend such an event. The rest said it would be more than nine months or just didn’t know how long it would be.
- The numbers were even lower for attending a large indoor event right now, again with appropriate social distancing guidelines in place. Only 22.5 percent said they would attend now, with 10.8 percent wanting to wait another month or two and 34.9 percent saying it would be 3-9 months yet. Another 23.3 percent said it would be more than nine months before they thought they would be comfortable enough to attend, while 8.5 percent didn’t have an answer yet.
- More than half (55.5 percent) of the respondents said they felt comfortable shopping in person at local small businesses, with 20.2 percent wanting to wait another month or two and 16.7 saying it would be 3-9 months yet.
- The level of comfort returning to restaurant dining rooms was lower at 41.6 percent right now, 17.6 percent in 1-2 months and 27.2 percent wanting to wait another 3-9 months. It could be even longer than that for 12.6 percent, with 1 percent uncertain when they would return.
- Asked what “away from home dining experience” they would prefer during the COVID-19 recovery, 40.4 percent answered regular dine-in service, while 13.4 percent wanted reservation-only or private seating options with socially distanced tables. Outdoor dining, such as patio or sidewalk seating, was the most popular choice at 46 percent.
- Drive-thru, curbside and carryout dining options helped many restaurants survive during COVID-19 and 40.7 percent of the poll respondents would like to see that continue during the pandemic or become a permanent option.
- As expected, the amount of online shopping increased during the pandemic. Respondents reported 25.6 percent of them increased their level of online shopping dramatically, while 37.3 percent said it increased somewhat.
- Asked how much of their regular shopping do they expect to continue online with national or global retailers now that local businesses are reopening, 26.5 percent said up to 20 percent of their shopping, while 17.4 percent said none. Only 13.3 percent reported they planned on doing 60 percent or more of their shopping online with non-local retailers.
- Online shopping with local businesses saw similar numbers percentage-wise, other than 29.7 percent of the respondents said they didn’t plan to do their shopping online if they could do it in-person.
- Thinking longer term, respondents were asked what types of new or expanded retail establishments they would like to see in town. A big box variety store to replace Kmart was the number one response at 35 percent. Women’s clothing was next at 22.1 percent, followed by sporting goods/outdoors, arts/crafts/hobbies (16.4), a bookstore (16.3) and a show store (15.7).
- Prior to the COVID-19 outbreak, dining (51.2 percent) was the number one reason respondents visited Charles City. That was followed by shopping (46.3) and work (46). The next highest reason for coming to town was banking or financial services at 28 percent.
- Asked what types of new or expanded eating and drinking establishments they would be most likely to frequent on a consistent basis, the number one answer was drive-thru or curbside coffee shops at 70 percent, followed by a steakhouse (32.5) and casual dining eatery (30.6). A bakery garnered 22 percent of the vote and an Italian restaurant at 20.1 percent.
There was also a comment section:
“The community is not wearing face coverings whatsoever as a general statement, including many of the employees within the establishments,” one comment read. “This is outrageous and makes no sense.”
Another respondent commented, “I was feeling good about going out shopping when everyone was wearing a mask … now this month the eating places are no longer having employees wear masks and I have stopped going.” She added some that do wear masks were not wearing them properly, often under their nose.
“Encourage people to follow the guidelines,” added a third. “There are too many who aren’t … look at the ball games with people sitting together like there was nothing wrong.”
As more employers are allowing their employees to work from home, one comment suggested the use of shared work spaces as a way of providing shared amenities or a way to deal with poor Internet service.
Wicks says the ramifications of this polling could be seen in the Fall or even Winter seasons. These results will make the Chamber forced to be more creative going forward.