Earlier this year, the Riverside Chamber of Commerce appeared to be hanging by a thread. Its membership had fallen to a little more than two dozen people and as board officers resigned, no one stepped up to replace them.
By the end of April, just three of the chamber board’s six officer positions were filled making it impossible to establish a quorum to conduct official business. While the chamber continued to convene monthly meetings, just a handful of people have attended.
Despite the challenges, there’s appears to be a glimmer of hope.
Efforts to recruit new officers have paid off, with two people filling vice president vacancies and one taking on the role of secretary.
With officer elections coming in November, some of those involved in the chamber are now looking to take the pulse of the business community to see just how much interest there is in revitalizing the Chamber of Commerce and who is willing to step into leadership roles.
Billing themselves as the Riverside Township Business Owners Alliance, chamber member Keith Wright; Arrick Pelton, the Riverside chamber’s new secretary; and Peter Janunas, owner of the new Riverside bike repair/rental business Gears2You are planning to host a networking event on Sept. 20 from 6 to 8 p.m. on the second floor of The Chew Chew, 33 E. Burlington St.
“Our goal is to get the pulse of the community” Pelton said. “Let’s see who wants to step up and is interested in revitalizing the chamber. If we can’t get any interest, it kind of answers the question.”
While the subject of the get-together is the Riverside Chamber of Commerce, the event is not a chamber event. While that may look odd, said Pelton, the choice was intentional.
“It was very clear to me that it needed not to be hosted by the chamber,” said Pelton, a real estate agent with Baird & Warner in Oak Park who moved to Riverside in 2017. “If the chamber is buying you drinks, do you feel weird about saying what you really feel is holding you back from joining?”
Wright, owner of Wright Services Inc., a building contracting firm, sent out an invitation to the event to chamber members last week and he said he planned to reach out to some of the new business owners in Riverside – places like The Sandtrap, Cubanito Express, Riverside Garage and Sips & Sweets – to invite them to get involved.
“There are a lot of older people in the chamber, and they’re worn out,” Wright said. “We’re trying to get young business owners involved, to have them step up and get them involved in the chamber board.”
There was a time earlier this year when Wright thought perhaps supplanting the Chamber of Commerce with a new organization might be viable, but with the chamber still extant there wasn’t a lot of support for that.
“I got involved at the end of last year, and they just didn’t seem to be making any progress,” Wright said of the chamber. “It was almost non-existent.”
Pelton said he decided to get involved after reading the Landmark’s article in April about the chamber’s struggles. When he joined the board as secretary, Wright saw potential.
“I probably would have walked away completely had not Arrick gotten on the board [as secretary],” Wright said.
What interested Wright even more is that Pelton said he would agree to be president of the chamber board if others didn’t step up. Greg Gorski, who took over as chamber president in November 2019, did not respond to the Landmark’s attempt to reach him.
“I don’t know if any others would serve [as president], but if you don’t have someone willing come November you’re still in trouble,” Pelton said. “If that’s what it comes down to, I’m happy to [run for president].”
Anyone interested in sending an RSVP for the Sept. 20 networking event is asked to email Wright at firstname.lastname@example.org.