Is the Riverside Chamber of Commerce a goner? It’s come close to folding in the past but the business community has stepped up to keep it going.
The last time the organization hit this crisis point, it rebounded and thrived for several years before members started dropping away slowly. At one time around 2010 the Riverside Chamber boasted more than 100 members and had enough clout that it helped the village seal the deal to build the green parking lot at 61-63 E. Burlington St. by donating $10,000 toward the effort.
Those days are apparently long gone and the chamber now lists just about 30 members on its website. While things were on the downswing before COVID-19, the pandemic appears to have landed a real body blow.
The chamber did manage to organize a Holiday Stroll last year, but it’s been tougher and tougher to attract volunteers to organize and staff events the chamber has been known for through the years, like the auto show and cruise nights, the steak fry-turned-RiverFest and others.
Those who have led the chamber charge over the past 15 years are, frankly, worn out. If the chamber is to survive much longer, it’s going to need an infusion of enthusiasm and volunteer spirit.
Failing that change – and soon – the chamber will sign off.
Perhaps the local business environment has evolved to the point where chambers of commerce are no longer as important for individual businesses, who have greater, and cheaper, immediate access to customers via social media and email.
Like other chambers, the Riverside organization spent a great deal of its time organizing community events. While those are great, they are a ton of work and increasingly come with little financial benefit to support those efforts.
Longtime chamber officer Janice Foley suggested that maybe the chamber could live on in a different form, specifically dedicated to an event like the Holiday Stroll. Perhaps, there could be a Friends of the Stroll a la the Friends of the Fourth, who stepped up to ensure the village’s July 4 traditions had a permanent lifeline.
Whatever form the chamber takes, or doesn’t, in the future, it certainly seems like we’re at an inflection point in Riverside. The old chamber model, which had its origins in the civic boosterism of the early 20th century, is perhaps a relic that needs an overhaul.
In any case it needs involved, younger business professionals to create an organization that meets contemporary needs. Or maybe it’s race is simply run.