The Sanibel & Captiva Island Chamber of Commerce formed the Safe Business Restart Committee earlier this month to guide the islands community in its recovery from pandemic shutdown since mid-March. As city of Sanibel legislation began to allow restaurants, retail operations, and service businesses to open their doors according to state distancing and density guidelines, the 15 -member committee of representatives from the chamber, Committee of the Islands (COTI), island businesses and non-profits, safety and health agencies, and city council met to strategize.

With the city council’s latest vote to allow measured accommodations reopening on May 16, the committee’s new initiative, called SanCap Safe, is taking steps to guide businesses through this uncharted territory and close the gap between economic and safety concerns.

“It’s got to be a unified effort,” said John Lai, chamber president and chief executive officer. “Not one faction – businesses – against another – residents.”

The committee’s three-pronged effort began on May 11 with a bulletin sent to all chamber members containing resources to put best practices into effect as businesses reopen. They received documents, which also are posted on the Chamber’s website, that range from AIHA Reopening Guidance for the Retail Industry to Food & Beverage Sanitation Checklist and Housekeeping Standards of Operation.

“We are acting as a clearinghouse for state and federal guidelines that businesses should follow to make the islands’ reopening as safe and compliant as possible,” said Lai. “We’ve asked members to respond with a ‘We are SanCap Safe’ virtual pledge.”

Businesses that take the pledge receive a logo decal for their entryway, plus an 8 x 10-inch poster detailing the program for customers. Chamber representatives began personally delivering the materials this week, and will continue for the next couple of weeks.

“This is not a regulatory agency,” said Lai. “It’s purely a self-monitored program. In fewer than 24 hours, we had more than 50 positive pledge responses.”

The committee is also producing two short SanCap Social Standards video. A 45-second video will explain the SanCap Safe program; a 60-second video guides visitors on abiding by safe distancing and health and sanitary measures. Both will broadcast on chamber social media outlets and on the chamber visitor center video boards, once the center opens on May 18th. The videos will also be available to chamber members to show on social media, on their websites, and at their places of business.

Part two of the program will provide supply support for local businesses in terms of the gloves, signage, plexiglass partitions, and other items they haven’t needed historically. The chamber is developing a sourcing page on its website to assist businesses in finding the goods and services they need to reopen and keep replenished.

“Initially, the SanCap Safe program targets the three sectors that have opened in some fashion or will be opening soon – retail, restaurants, and accommodations,” said Lai. “The second phase will likely address salons, spas, and vacation rentals, depending how governments roll out. Then attractions and activities, such as tours.”

The third part of SanCap Safe strategies will be an upcoming Zoom meeting, free for chamber members and island residents alike. The chamber is working with Lee Health to bring a representative from the CDC Infectious Diseases Department and the Florida Department of Health to organize a discussion on “Living and Working in a Desirable Destination.” It will announce the time and date, tentatively by late May, as plans are finalized.

“The business community is taking this reopening seriously and approaching it cautiously as we put the islands’ economic engine in first gear,” said Lai. “We are acutely aware of the importance of getting this right and are committed to being a part of the solution.”