The Loudon County Chamber of Commerce will move forward with the 32nd Annual Gala and Chamber Choice Awards.

This year’s event takes place with an Octoberfest theme at 5:30 p.m. Oct. 22 in front of the chamber offices on Wharf Street in Loudon.

“The rationale behind that is we felt we could do a safe event and maintain the tradition that we’ve had for 31 years,” Rodney Grugin, chamber president, said. “That was the reason why we decided to do an outside event to help with that and, obviously, we’re going to adhere to the social distancing, the whole nine yards, so we felt like we could have a safe event and look to carry on a tradition.”

Grugin anticipates ticket sales could be down due to the COVID-19 pandemic. About 110 tickets have been sold, and there is a chance the event will be capped at 200.

Last year saw more than 300 people attend the gala at The Venue at Lenoir City.

“We’re not expecting as large a crowd, for one,” Grugin said. “Outside we have all of Wharf Street ... that’s probably a quarter-mile-long street, so we will be able to spread out. We’re going with food (that) will be through food trucks, so all of that will be individually handled there so won’t be having a buffet or anything like that. Then we’ll have the spacing with the tables and move forward.”

Visitors can expect a more casual setting.

“It will be a different atmosphere this year,” Grugin said. “It’s going to be more casual, less formal, outside street festival-type atmosphere this year. We’re looking forward to it and think it’s going to be a good time.”

Each year chamber members come together to recognize individuals and businesses who go the extra mile.

“It’s just tradition and we want to hang on to that tradition and at least want to, again, give value to our membership and that’s what we’re trying to do,” Grugin said.

Awards will be given for Person of the Year, Business of the Year, Volunteer of the Year and Nonprofit of the Year. The final three categories were added in 2019.

“I think because we have so many great things going on in the community and so many great people and businesses that that’s why we expanded it to the four awards in part to recognize those people for the hard work that they do and what they give to our community,” Christy Fitzgerald, chamber board chairwoman, said.

Nominations are due today. Forms are available online at www.loudoncounty or by calling 865-458-2067.

“We started out with Person of the Year, and that was great, but we also felt like that we had other individuals and organizations within the county that need to be recognized on a yearly basis,” Grugin said. “That prompted us to come up with the three additional categories and I think it’s been great. It highlights three more entities in the county in that there’s some great, great things going on within the county.”

Tickets are $35 per person or $350 for a table of 10. A “premium” table at $500 is also offered.

Fitzgerald said premium perks include the name of the sponsor on printed materials, a table for 10, pre- and post-event recognition to chamber membership, the sponsor’s logo prominently displayed during the gala and recognition on all chamber social media promotions.

This will be the final major chamber event in what Fitzgerald called a “unique” year. She said the chamber has worked to maintain some sort of normalcy, albeit in creative ways, including Zoom meetings.

“We’ve done fairly well, I think, and it’s challenging as is everything else, but I think recognizing our members of the day every day and just being out there and available to the members and showing them that we’re here for them and we care and support them in different ways,” Fitzgerald said.