Covid Success Stories in Warren County

Aaron Spencer, straightens t-shirts at Allegheny Outfitters
Aaron Spencer, straightens t-shirts at Allegheny Outfitters

Have you ever been “river kissed”? Chances are you have. Especially if you’ve taken a canoe ride down the Allegheny River in the middle of a pandemic while the rest of the world is huddled in their homes living off of takeout and Amazon orders. Not that there’s anything wrong with takeout and Amazon orders. Our access to technology has, no doubt, smoothed the rocky road we find ourselves traveling. Besides an increase in online shopping there is another trend Covid-19 has spurred worldwide. Time spent outdoors. It’s no secret that time spent in nature can be beneficial to your mental, physical, and emotional health, but during a time of worldwide crises, it’s been a small sliver of salvation.

When businesses were allowed to open after the first economic shutdown people would enter Allegheny Outfitters (owned by Piper VanOrd) tense and stressed. When they came back from a trip down the river Piper could see they were more relaxed. Their shoulders were lower, they were even laughing. This is what it means to be “river kissed”; allowing the river to absorb your tension, leaving you with a sense of peace.

As a result of the pandemic Allegheny Outfitters had taken great pains to ensure the safety of their customers. Like many downtown businesses they expanded their online-shopping opportunities and initiated services like home delivery and curbside pickup. Face masks are required upon entrance to the store and hand sanitizer is available near the door. For canoe/kayak trips down the river, payment and liability forms were moved online, water safety speeches were moved outside, and shuttle services were discontinued. Customers had to transport themselves between their beginning and end points or use a local taxi service. Life jackets, paddles, kayaks, and canoes were disinfected like they had never been disinfected before.

Piper feels rewarded when people connect with nature. And in these current times, that connection is more important than ever.

At the same time Piper and her staff were learning how to traverse the uncharted waters of running a small business during a pandemic, another story of commitment and perseverance was taking shape just around the corner. Dana Harrington, proprietor of Goat Fort Indoor Climbing, knew the challenges he would face opening a new business; but who plans for a pandemic? No one. However, Dana didn’t let that stop him from embarking on this unique venture. Indoor climbing in towns the size of Warren just don’t exist. When he saw a trend in indoor climbing, Dana recognized the value of this opportunity.

Super-volunteer Alethea climbs at Goat Fort Indoor Climbing

To make this opportunity work, Dana had to find the balance between being reckless and taking a measured risk. After having this conversation with his wife, they decided to keep moving forward. Dana recognizes that Goat Fort Indoor Climbing would never have become a reality without the good people who chipped in. Carter Lumber invested some building material. Super-volunteer Alethea organized workbees, and carpenter John Boisvert donated hours to get the job done.

The best lesson Dana learned over this unique year is that you must commit to the terrifying, difficult things that are worthwhile. “Let go of your safety lines and dive in,” he said.

Besides small businesses, local programs also had to reinvent their curricula to adjust to life during Covid-19. Leadership Warren County is “a nine-month curriculum to bring caring, community-minded people together from across the County in an effort to form partnerships to improve the economic vitality and quality of life in Warren County. The program exists to foster a commitment to community trusteeship, and to acquaint participants with the County’s resources, assets, strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats.” Normally, organizers would begin the program in September of 2020 and follow the school calendar, but they decided to postpone until January of 2021. They hoped this would give more time for things to reopen or allow themselves to acclimate to certain rules and restrictions.
Because one of their regular meeting spaces, the Warren Public Library, had been forced to shut down, “the Northern Pennsylvania Regional College (NPRC) stepped up and offered its state-of-the-art conference room and cutting-edge technology for some of the sessions,” according to Leadership Warren County Director, Gary Lester. NPRC also enrolled their IT manager in the program, which allowed a variety of formats to be considered.

Warren Summer Music School Director Denise Pearson presenting at the Crary Gallery on Arts Day.
Warren Summer Music School Director Denise Pearson presenting at the Crary Gallery on Arts Day.

Now, we have all heard, “You better have a backup plan.” Well never mind Plan B; in times such as these you might need a Plan C…or a Plan D. For example, Judicial System Day is usually held at the Warren County Courthouse. If the courthouse is closed, speakers will present from there and class members will view the presentations virtually.

Hoping for the best, Leadership Warren County currently plans to start their 15th year in September. However, rest assured they have Plan B, and maybe Plan C, waiting in the wings if necessary.

One thing I think we’ve all learned from this experience is that we can make it through hard times if we pull together. Community support of community businesses and programs are key to maintaining community pride and esteem. Together…we can.