HAMILTON, Mo. — During non-pandemic times, Hamilton’s 12 quilt shops and state quilt museum draw visitors from all over and provide support for the local economy. But this year, the quilt shops have been closed since March due to the coronavirus pandemic, and Bob Hughes, with the Hamilton Chamber of Commerce, says the town of 1,800 in Caldwell County has felt that impact.
“When those are open, that draws over 100,000 tourists a year to Hamilton,” he says. “Hamilton is struggling because we don’t have the tourism revenue we’ve come to depend on.”
The town became a hub of quilt shops a little over 10 years ago when Jenny Doan and her family started the Missouri Star Quilt Company. Hughes says it is now the largest employer in town and the largest seller of precut fabric in the world.
Beyond the town’s tourism impacts, COVID-19 has caused struggles for Hamilton’s agricultural and small businesses, Hughes says.
“The town is still basically closed,” he says. “It’s had a profound impact on the community.”
Hughes says Small Business Administration loans and CARES Act funding have helped keep small local businesses going. Also, Hughes said the community has been committed to supporting its businesses, like a barbecue restaurant that thrived on takeout orders until in-person dining reopened.
“This has been encouraging people to shop local,” he says. “People are staying home, they’re not getting out.”
The chamber of commerce has also kept working on the town’s economy during the pandemic months.
“Even with COVID, we didn’t stop marketing the town,” Hughes says.
He is expecting a surge in local economic activity once the community gets past the pandemic. The town’s quilt shops currently plan to reopen in March.
Hughes knows small towns have to try to diversify, and the chamber is working on other ways to support the town’s tourism industry. The town is also working to upgrade its infrastructure, including streets and water lines, as well as ongoing efforts to bring high-speed internet to the town.
Hughes says Hamilton faces economic challenges, like many small towns, but he is encouraged by the people.
“One of our best resources are the people we have,” he says.