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COPING WITH COVID: Spartanburg Area Chamber of Commerce and JW Woodward Funeral Home

Molly Hulsey //June 10, 2020//

COPING WITH COVID: Spartanburg Area Chamber of Commerce and JW Woodward Funeral Home

Molly Hulsey //June 10, 2020//

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The 1910s were an auspicious decade for Spartanburg’s Woodward family.

After prompting from another local funeral home owner, John Woodward and his associates decided to build a mortuary in 1916 for people of color during a time when segregation was enforced by law.

Kay Woodward serves as president the 106-year-old funeral home her father founded. (Photo/Tim Kimzey/Spartanburg Herald-Journal)Then in 1918, the Spanish Flu swept through the Upstate and swamped the state’s hospitals as the mortality rate for the flu, in conjunction with pneumonia, climbed to 70%. By October 1918, the infection rate in Greenville averaged 1,000 per day, according to an article from the University of South Carolina, Institute of Southern Studies.

Spartanburg had begun to feel the brunt of the virus in September and shuttered all public gatherings 11 days later, the article said.

“This is our second pandemic that we’ve dealt with,” Woodward’s daughter, Kay, said. 

Woodward’s job put him on the front lines of an even more deadly virus than today’s new coronavirus. Today, his daughter continues to run JW Woodward Funeral Home, the city’s oldest African American-owned business, as president, but she is also heading up another relief effort — this time targeting economic recovery.

When the chamber asked Woodward to co-chair Spartanburg Area Chamber of Commerce’s Bringing Back the Burg task force with David Britt, vice president of Tindall Corp.’s South Carolina division, she knew that she would be too busy during a deadly pandemic, but — given the circumstances and her unique position within both the public health and busines community — she said yes anyway.

“I look at this as a balancing act, carrying two weights: dealing with COVID-19 from a safety perspective, concurrent with bringing business back in a safe way. And the two can merge. It’s a challenge, because every business is very different. Some businesses are clearly impacted in a greater way than other businesses,” Woodward said.

She argues that education, compliance and innovation are key in reopening the area’s economy without inducing another wave of infection.

Innovation for Woodward meant finding ways for mourning clients to come together while staying apart.

“We have had to be very creative in terms of celebrating the lives of those who have passed,” she said. “We can celebrate, but we celebrate in different ways: we’re live streaming services, we’re operating with graveside services. And every business has a new challenge.”

For the Spartanburg chamber and recovery task force, this meant finding creative methods for helping local businesses tap into federal aid and additional information.

Kay Woodward serves as co-chair of Bringing Back the Burg recovery task force. (Photo/Molly Hulsey)More than 10,500 businesses were alerted to the second round of paycheck protection funding through a chamber-initiated robocall, municipalities were lobbied for offering business tax or fee relief and a list of minority and women-owned businesses was compiled to help connect their owners with targeted webinars and information, according to a release.

The chamber also plans to launch a business fund within a month.

“It’s important for us to all realize that we are not helpless,” Woodward said. Over the past few months, she has had to walk grieving clients through the mortuary’s precautions by informing them on how the measures helped keep both her clients and employees safe.

“There are similarities between loss in so many different ways,” she said.

She shares a similar goal when connecting business owners with chamber resources through her responsibilities with the task force.

Since March 16, the chamber tried to bridge the gap for the hospitality and tourism industry by putting hotels in touch with Spartanburg Regional to help host incoming medical assistance, collaborating with the industry on event rescheduling plans and bringing the NJCAA Division II softball championships to the area in 2023 and 2024, according to a release.

“The chamber is working hard to make resources and information available to businesses,” Woodward said.