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Chamber Expo scores touchdown with biz, attendees

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Mary Wilson celebrates after scoring her second "touchdown" while playing a football toss game sponsored by Spectrum cable TV during the Tailgate Party at the Elizabeth City Area Chamber of Commerce's annual Business Expo at the K.E. White Center, Tuesday night, Sept. 25, 2018.

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By William F. West
Staff Writer

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

More than 50 local businesses and agencies showed off their services and products to attendees of the Elizabeth City Area Chamber of Commerce’s 27th annual Business Expo on Tuesday.

“Kick Off Your Fourth Quarter” was the football-inspired theme for Tuesday’s expo, the first the Chamber has held in the fall. The trade show traditionally has been held in the spring.

In keeping with this year’s theme, many of the 51 vendors at the K.E. White Center were decked out in their favorite football team’s colors or paraphernalia.

Molly Preciado, membership director at the Albemarle Family YMCA, was hard to miss in her football headbopper. Asked if she was drawing a lot of attention because of it, she said she was.

“Everybody is wishing they had my style,” she quipped.

Shondalyn Bowe, a job coach with Skills Inc., was wearing a New York Giants replica jersey.

“That’s the only way to go,” Bowe said of her support for Big Blue. “Our whole household are Giants fans: Husband; daughter; the whole family.”

Bowe even had a miniature action figure of Giants quarterback Eli Manning. “That’s the face of the Giants,” she said.

Bowe said she “loved” the expo’s football theme.

“When I first heard about it, I jumped on board,” she said.

Skills Inc. is a nonprofit that works to secure employment opportunities for people with disabilities.

Mike McDaniel, co-owner of the Carolina Center, was sporting a Carolina Panthers hat and jersey at the expo.

“Now I came dressed as I normally dress,” he quipped. “I feel very comfortable. This is what I wear about every day.”

Although the Chamber tries to have a different theme for each expo, McDaniel said he’d love for the business group to stick with the football theme.

“It’s laid back. It’s fun — and I think it’s something that we all kind of have an attachment to. We all enjoy one of America’s pastimes,” he said.

McDaniel also liked the idea of making the expo a one-day instead of a two-day event. In the past, the Chamber has held a ticketed “sneak peek” event the night before the expo, giving local residents a chance to preview the expo. This year, the ticketed event — called a Tailgate Party — was held a couple of hours after the main expo, which this year was called Community Day.

“At first I kind of questioned it, but I think really looking at it, it makes sense,” McDaniel said of the changed format.

McDaniel said the one-day format probably suits businesspeople best because it means they don’t have to pack up one day and come back the next. It’s also probably better for community residents, too, because they only have to attend one event, he said.

Donald Imhoff, vice president of business development with Eastern Shore Communications, said he also liked switching the expo from spring to the fall.

“It’s nice to have something of this large size in the autumn,” he said, noting that there’s already the N.C. Potato Festival in the spring.

Chamber President Holly Staples said during Tuesday evening’s Tailgate Party that both vendors and residents seemed to be enjoying themselves.

“We have some exhibitors who are really excited to be here — and I think the community has received it very well,” Staples said.

While many vendors at the expo were repeat participants, some like Ambrose Furniture were advertising their products at the event for the first time.

Owner Barry Ambrose said he decided to get a booth after the Chamber approached his store manager about participating.

“We thought it was a good idea just to meet some new people,” he said.

Ambrose said his business was showing merchandise to people at the expo who had never been in his stores.

Asked what he thought about the expo’s new one-day format, he said, “Well, it seems like the weekend would be a little bit more conducive to getting more people in here.”

At the same time, holding the event on one day seems fine, he said.

“I just think that it makes it easier for us in terms of staffing,” he said, noting the old saying, “Time is money.”

While the expo was an opportunity for area residents to learn more about local businesses, the Community Day also served as a job fair.

Taylor Pate, 22, said she attended the Community Day because she was hoping to get a lead on a new job.

“I’m just looking for anything that’s available,” she said.

Pate said she had worked as a correctional officer at Pasquotank Correctional Institution but decided to leave after the failed inmate escape attempt in October 2016 that caused the deaths of four prison staff.

Pate said she wants to stick around Elizabeth City if she can find a decent job. She said she was encouraged by the number of businesses at the expo looking for workers.

Standing at Museum of the Albemarle’s booth, she also was impressed with things she was learning — for example, that admission to the museum is free.

“I think it’s pretty cool. There’s a lot of stuff that’s actually available here, some stuff I didn’t know,” she said.

Other Community Day attendees said they wanted to support local businesses.

Verna Austin Wall, 83, of Camden, said that with a few exceptions, she has been a regular expo attendee every year.

“I believe in Elizabeth City and the people that promote it,” Wall said.

Asked why she believes attending the expo is important, she commented, “Because it tells people what they don’t know about businesses in the area.”

Shirley Jones, 79, of Hertford, was attending her first expo. She said a neighbor brought her.

“I think it’s wonderful,” Jones said. “You get a chance to know what’s going on the neighborhood because I sure didn’t know.”

Jones said she in fact had learned something important at Tuesday’s expo.

“By me going around and getting information, now I have somebody to do my gutters,” she said.

Ronnie Barefoot, a sales manager for Doug Williams/​Rick Gilbert Refrigeration, Plumbing, Heating and Air Conditioning, called his first Business Expo “a good experience.”

“You meet new people,” he said. “You have people come in that want to know about your business. We have people come in that are looking for employment, so we’ve got applications here.”

Barefoot noted he had already received an application from one person during the expo.

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