As an emergency informational measure relating to island businesses and the COVID-19 pandemic, the Sanibel & Captiva Islands Chamber of Commerce hosted its first-ever, Zoom-platform virtual meeting on Monday, April 6, with Sanibel Mayor Kevin Ruane, District 3 County Commissioner Ray Sandelli, and director of the Lee County Economic Development Office John Talmage.

“We’re trying to message with one voice, because people get confused pretty quickly,” said Sandelli. The three speakers explained how local government agencies huddle virtually and work together daily to standardize messages, including conferring with Gov. Ron DeSantis on decisions.

Sandelli and Talmage directed those “attending” the meeting to Lee County’s Resources for Businesses page at to access information and forms for all the various loans, grants, financial assistance, and other tools available through the Small Business Development Center and State of Florida.

“We’re all wondering what does [the pandemic] do to the marketplace. Will it ever be the same?” said Santelli. “I’m going to say no.”

Talmage talked more in-depth about each of the programs available to small businesses through the CARES (Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security) Act’s stimulus plan. They include the Payroll Protection Program for those businesses who continue to pay employees, small business bridge loans, and the SBA Economic Injury Disaster Loan. He also addressed the current challenges with the Florida unemployment website, advising individuals to try accessing the site late at night, or completing the hard-copy application form, printable from the county’s small business portal.

“The system will continue to crash,” Talmage said. “But you want to get the application completed as soon as you can.”

Mayor Ruane explained the city’s reasoning behind some of the 21 proclamations it has issued to date regarding the novel coronavirus. “Closing the causeway is difficult to do,” he said in answer to some citizen feedback the city receives. He added that on the previous Saturday, only 784 cars crossed the causeway, compared to 10,000 cars in one day this time last year.

“We have cut off as much of the supply as possible…” he said. “We are trying not to be an attraction and not have people coming to our community.”

“We hear the words ‘unprecedented’ and ‘uncharted’ a lot these days,” said John Lai, chamber president, and chief executive office. “As our speakers pointed out, it’s a process of educating the public about something we are all just learning. Their words went a long way in informing and leading our members during these uncertain times.”

In his introduction to the virtual meeting, Lai announced the chamber’s latest COVID-19 campaign, #paradisecanwait.” He also thanked outgoing board chair Mary Bondurant and welcomed incoming chair, Brian Kautz. The change in leadership normally would have been announced at the chamber’s April 14 annual meeting, which was canceled because of the pandemic.



The Sanibel & Captiva Islands Chamber of Commerce is dedicated to promoting the prosperity of its members and preserving the quality of life of our community. With over 560 active Chamber members from both islands including businesses from Lee and Collier counties, the Chamber plays a key role in facilitating communication and cooperation between business, residents, and government to enhance the economic health of the islands. The Francis P. Bailey, Jr. Chamber Visitor Center is located at the entrance to Sanibel Island and welcomes over 160,000 visitors each year. VISIT FLORIDA named the Visitor Center one of thirteen official Florida Certified Tourism Information Centers. The Visitor Center is open 365 days a year and provides visitors with comprehensive information about things to do, places to visit, where to stay, shop, and dine. The Chamber website receives over 1.3 million website visits per year.

For more information about the chamber, visit or contact Ashley Pignato, member services manager, at 239-472-8255  or [email protected].