Arrick Pelton

The Riverside Chamber of Commerce, reported earlier in 2022 to be in danger of folding, marked the beginning of a new chapter in its history on Dec. 14, swearing in a full slate of officers and setting an ambitious agenda for reinvigorating the nearly century-old organization.

At their regular meeting last week held at the Riverside Township Hall, the chamber installed Baird & Warner Realtor Arrick Pelton as its new president, Gears 2 You co-owner Peter Janunas as first vice president, Wright Services Corp. owner Keith Wright as second vice president and A&G Mortgage Solutions owner Gerry Robledo as secretary. Comic Collector owner Rich Lukes stays on board as its treasurer.

“Now we redefine what the chamber is and what it should be doing,” Pelton told the Landmark in a phone interview last week.

As recently as April, the Riverside Chamber of Commerce appeared to be in danger of collapsing. With membership down to just a couple of dozen members, and even fewer actively participating, longtime chamber director and officer Janice Foley said at the time that the organization was “at the precipice.”

The chamber’s board of directors was down to just three people, one of whom was Lukes, who had started becoming a more active participant in 2019. It was that year the chamber’s longtime president, David Moravecek, stepped down. Almost immediately afterward, the COVID-19 pandemic hit, and the chamber essentially went into a year-long hibernation.

When the world reemerged from the lockdowns, the chamber didn’t reemerge with it.

“I think what the chamber members needed to know was that someone was willing to be at the helm,” Pelton said. “Once someone said, ‘I’m willing to be at the helm,’ they could get behind that.”

Pelton stepped into the role of board secretary this summer after reading an article about the chamber’s travails in the Landmark. Pelton, along with Wright, a longtime chamber member, and Janunas, hosted their own networking event in September to  gauge the interest of and get feedback from the business community to see if the Riverside Chamber of Commerce had a future.

Hosted independently from the chamber, that event produced results. About 30 people showed up to the get-together at The Chew Chew, many of them newer business owners willing to get involved.

“That’s what we needed more than anything – involvement,” Wright said. “The group we have now, I think we’re all pretty excited to turn the chamber into something we can pass on in the future, to develop it so all systems are in place.”

The September networking event identified other new key volunteers, said Wright, such as Realtor Amy Regan, who stepped up to be the lead organizer for the Riverside Holiday Stroll, Becky Visser of First American Bank and Dani Andersen of J. Andersen Construction.

“What we learned [in September] was how much interest there was going to be in the chamber,” Pelton said. “There were a lot of people who showed up, not to gripe but to hear what we were going to do. There is a passion and interest in having a full-functioning chamber.”

The chamber’s Dec. 14 meeting agenda, following the installation of officers, laid out the plan for the coming months, most immediately creating a social media and communications strategy, reaching out to the Riverside Economic Development Commission, updating membership application/renewal processes and incentivizing participation.

“It’s time to relaunch, rebrand and get active again,” Pelton said.