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A business message between Connecticut and Rhode Island: You are welcome (for less than 24 hours)

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Between Tuesday and Wednesday, Lisa Konicki said she and her staff received more than 700 inquiries — via emails, phone calls and texts — about Rhode Island getting added to Connecticut's travel advisory.

Konicki is the president of the Ocean Community Chamber of Commerce — and a Connecticut resident who works in Rhode Island.

According to the state's "FAQ Concerning Adjacent Affected states," the requirement to self-quarantine for 14 days doesn't apply if the visit to the affected state — in this case, Rhode Island — is for less than 24 hours.

"We're already having people calling saying, 'Do I need to cancel my dining reservations?' and it's adding a whole new layer of challenge for businesses that have already been jumping hurdle after hurdle since the beginning of March," Konicki said.

So, to clear up any confusion and get out ahead on messaging, she launched a "You are Welcome" campaign Tuesday morning.

She bought two welcome mats and spent the day having them photographed in different locations in Connecticut and Rhode Island. The first picture taken was of Konicki standing on the Connecticut side of the Pawcatuck River Bridge and Maria Allen, owner of Bella Vita Salon in Westerly and a member of the chamber board, standing on the Rhode Island side.

The two split up and photographed people holding up the welcome mat at local businesses.

In Connecticut, that includes Mia's Café, Bogue's Alley, Mystic Aquarium, Mystic Seaport Museum, Jealous Monk, Bank Square Books, Sea Swirl and more. In Rhode Island, that includes Sandy's Fine Food Emporium, Dunns Corner Market, Dick's World of Wines, Herbwise Naturals, Miceli's Furniture and Homespun Antiques.

Others were the Mystic restaurants Grass & Bone and Engine Room. Owner Dan Meiser, who also owns Oyster Club, said the restaurants received "quite a few calls and emails" from people who live in Rhode Island, and were asking about a reservation or plans to come to dinner. He said such callers are informed they can come, as it's for less than 24 hours.

"At the end of the day, the order itself is a lot less scary and impactful when you actually get past the headline of 'Connecticut bans Rhode Island,'" Meiser said. Both he and Konicki spoke of southeastern Connecticut and the Westerly area being one community.

What's trickier than restaurant reservations, though, is the impact on the 24th Annual Virtu Outdoor Art Festival, to be held Aug. 22-23 in Wilcox Park in Westerly.

Konicki said some artists that registered are coming from farther away in Connecticut and were planning on renting a hotel room for two nights in Rhode Island.

She said the chamber would refund artists who need to pull out but pointed out that if they get a hotel in Pawcatuck or elsewhere in Connecticut, and go to Rhode Island for eight hours or so each day of the festival, they're still "within the letter of the law."

Whereas the chamber has historically done long-term strategic planning, Konicki said, it's had to become nimble in recent months and quickly adapt marketing strategies.

She explained that marketing evolved from positive "Community Strong" type messaging early in the pandemic, to public service messaging about face masks, to the current "you are welcome" messaging.

"You are allowed to come and go across the border," Konicki said. "The National Guard isn't here. No one's going to card you or interview you. You are allowed to come for these errands, for these day trips."


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