ANDOVER — Less than two months into her new job as the director of business, arts and cultural development, Ann Ormond completed her newsletter database that included contacts for every business owner in town.
This database would serve as a quick way for Ormond, a Newburyport resident and former president of the Greater Newburyport Chamber of Commerce & Industry, to communicate and update Andover business owners on things happening in and around town.
Only a few days later, the Sept. 13 gas disaster caused by overpressurized gas lines struck and forced hundreds of those owners to close their businesses — some for weeks, some for months.
The feeling of uncertainty when they would be able to reopen their doors to customers was accompanied by the weariness of how severely their businesses were hit.
Waiting for restored gas service, safety inspections and new appliances were burdens on top of their dwindling patronage, as shopping and dining wasn’t a top priority for homeowners who were also left without heat and hot water.
“The silver lining was that I was building the database to talk about what was going on and what was happening in town,” Ormond said.
Now, she would be able to quickly contact business owners to help them through what would become an extensive recovery period.
Ormond said her position as the director of business, arts, and cultural development allowed her to be a voice for the business community.
“I knew what my role was,” she said. “My role was to champion and guide the business community and be their advocate.”
Ormond spent the next few weeks — which quickly turned into months — listening to owners, making herself present in shops and restaurants downtown, and deciding the best way for each business to move forward.
Her position is unique when it comes to the three communities — Lawrence, Andover and North Andover — affected by the disaster. She said having this position allowed Andover to communicate with businesses fast.
“I look and say, ‘Who would the business community have dealt with if this position wasn’t here?’” she said.
The position was created in July by Town Manager Andrew Flanagan. Ormond said she found people were glad there was someone in that position to help navigate them through the gas crisis and act as their voice with Columbia Gas and town officials.
But Ormond was more than a voice. She dedicated hours and substantial effort to hold events that would encourage patronage and, ultimately, bring revenue into the small businesses that needed it most.
From a Small Business Saturday event to a shop-local weekend initiative, she brought people downtown and to the Shawsheen area at a time when customers were scarce.
Ormond served as president of the Newburyport Chamber for 11 years and also spent a lot of time advocating for customers. She knew the importance of having a liaison with a sole focus on businesses.
In her position at the Chamber and those she held prior, Ormond has always been heavily involved with businesses. Ormond said she would rather visit a new downtown while on vacation than take a trip to the beach.
“I feel like businesses are the lifeblood of a community,” she said.