The Riverside Chamber of Commerce has been serving the interests of businesses in the village for at least 92 years. The organization made its first appearance in a Riverside News article in April 1930.
But it might not be around much longer.
“We’re at the precipice of folding,” said Janice Foley, who in addition to being the director of the Riverside Public Library is the chamber’s first vice president and has been an officer of the organization since 2006.
The Riverside Chamber of Commerce has been in gradual decline for several years, but the COVID-19 pandemic, which put the organization on ice for months, scuttled events and forced meetings onto Zoom, put it on life support.
“We didn’t do anything that first year [of the pandemic],” said Foley. “But it was already dwindling. When we did have meetings, it was always the same people attending and under 10 would come.”
The chamber’s website lists just 31 members, a far cry from the roughly 120 members the chamber boasted about a decade ago. That heyday came under the direction of the organization’s longtime president David Moravecek, the owner of Ivins/Moravecek Funeral Home.
He had retained that title – largely because no one would claim it from him – for 15 years until announcing at the end of 2019 that it was time for a change.
When he agreed to be the president of the chamber, the organization was in a similar predicament. Longtime leaders were aging out and new leaders, business owners who had plenty on their plates, were not exactly rushing to replace them.
“I was overwhelmed at the time,” said Moravecek. “I had taken over the business just a couple years earlier.”
But Moravecek was also the chamber’s vice president and he had been expected to step into the top role.
“I was at the meeting when they said they were closing up the Riverside Chamber of Commerce,” he said. “So I stepped in to do my two-year term [as president]. It turned into 15 years.”
When Moravecek finally stepped back at the end of 2019, it was the same story. Though there were members who stepped up, they did so reluctantly.
Greg Gorski, who runs a web consulting business and was a longtime member of the Riverside TV Commission, volunteered to take over as president. He could not be reached for this story.
Foley, a chamber member through the library since 2000, remained as first vice president. New officers included Jason Hinsley, a real estate professional, and Rich Lukes, who owns Comic Collector on Harlem Avenue.
Now the chamber’s treasurer, Lukes was “not super active” as a member prior to 2019, although he’s paid dues for two-plus decades.
“I was kind of guilted into it because of the lack of participation,” Lukes said. “That’s kind of been the story for the past couple of years.”
Just a couple of months after the change in leadership, the COVID pandemic swept through.
While the pandemic didn’t help, said Lukes, it’s not the reason the chamber has been struggling.
“There’s an apathy about getting involved,” said Lukes, who is also president of the West Suburban Symphony board of directors.
Once the sponsor of car shows, an annual steak fry fundraiser, the Riverside Person of the Year dinner, a newer event called RiverFest and the beloved Holiday Stroll, the only event that appears to have survived the pandemic is the Holiday Stroll.
Without a chamber to support it, that’s in jeopardy, too.
“The Stroll’s been successful and we get a little more participation for it, but other than that, no one wants to step up,” Lukes said. “You can’t have the same five people handle everything.”
The chamber sent a survey to its members at the beginning of March to gauge interest in the organization. There was also a link to the survey posted on Facebook, so members of the public could weigh in. It received 17 responses, said Foley, with several of them indicating the chamber wasn’t important to them.
“And the ones who are interested, and I include myself in this, are getting older,” Foley said. “That’s not what you need for leadership.”
The chamber’s officers last met on March 30 for what amounted to a decision to place the chamber in hospice.
“We want to let people know this is how we feel,” said Lukes. “Maybe it’ll shock people and see if it pushes them to get involved.
“If not, it’s been a nice run.”