Michael Perry has done this before. But never under these circumstances.
Perry is coming out of retirement to assume the CEO position at the visitors bureau, better known as Visit Big Bear. Perry will step into the role temporarily until a replacement for Darien Schaefer is found.
Schaefer has been the CEO for three years. He leaves April 10 for Florida to take over as CEO at Visit Pensacola.
Perry, speaking from his home, said taking on the new role and coming out of retirement brings mixed feelings for him. He’s happy to serve the community in this time of need, but taking over amid the COVID-19 emergency is daunting. This is like nothing the world has ever seen before, Perry said. This is everywhere, he said, and uncharted waters.
Perry will begin work Monday, March 30. He will work with Schaefer for a couple of weeks before Schaefer’s departure. The two have been communicating via conference calls since Perry accepted the board’s request for help as interim CEO on March 19. This isn’t new to Perry.
He served the agency for seven months during the search that brought Schaefer to Big Bear from November 2016 to June 2017. Perry did a stint to form the tourism business improvement district, or TBID, for the agency from September 2014 through April 2016.
Looking ahead at what major projects Perry will lead the staff through as the interim leader, marketing during a worldwide crisis and renewal of the TBID are the two priorities. And they are directly linked, Perry said.
The TBID is at four years of its five-year life. The renewal effort normally wouldn’t be a question, Perry said. It’s been successful, and most members and businesses wouldn’t hesitate in voting for renewal, he said. But in these uncertain times when businesses are laying off employees, going dark temporarily or closing, Perry said he’s not so sure.
Many businesses have shut down through April and May. So many people have lost jobs, Perry said. “These are not normal times,” Perry said.
Visit Big Bear is the economic marketing engine for the Valley, but Perry knows so many businesses are struggling in these difficult times. Some may not even be in business when this is over. The TBID renewal is vital to rebuilding the economy and marketing the community to visitors when this is over, he said.
A lot of events have either been canceled or postponed that were scheduled for Big Bear in the spring and early summer. The comedy festival has been canceled, Schaefer said last week. The Grill and Chill sponsored by Visit Big Bear most likely won’t take place Memorial Weekend, Schaefer said. And the big event, the Spartan Race also set for May, probably won’t happen, Schaefer said.
The summer tourist season looms, and Perry said he is hopeful the community is back in action by July 4. However, the fireworks celebration and the busiest tourist day of the year is in jeopardy due to COVID-19. Fundraising is required to fund the fireworks show, which is about $90,000. Local businesses donate the most, Perry said. But there is no way we can ask for contributions from the business community right now, Perry said.
Big Bear is losing a lot of good events, Perry said. The community needs to understand we need to welcome the tourists back with open arms when this is over, he said.
Perry lamented about the many restaurants that have either closed or are offering takeout only “They’re my friends,” Perry said of the owners who are struggling during this time, sharing that personally he is more emotional than he has been in a long time during these uncertain times.
The goal of Visit Big Bear is for everyone to stay at home now and heed the orders because that will mean we will be welcoming back visitors much sooner, Perry said.
The Visit Big Bear staff is working from home, Perry said, and the Visitors Center is closed under the governor’s order as a nonessential business.