Chappaqua-Millwood Chamber of Commerce off To An Auspicious Start
By Debra Hand
After years of unsuccessful attempts, New Castle finally has a Chamber of Commerce that in its first few months has already lived up to its motto of “Growing Commerce, Connections and Community.”
By early July, the new Chappaqua-Millwood Chamber of Commerce had already signed up 79 members, in only one month, with the number growing daily. According to Chamber Executive Director Linda Degelsmith, support from both merchants and the community has “simply been wonderful,” with everyone excited about the potential improvements to town that a unified group can accomplish. The Saturday morning Farmer’s Market has even given the Chamber a center table, attended by Degelsmith, to promote its goals and town businesses.
“This Chamber will be different [than earlier attempts] because of the passion to make this community a community, to get people to come downtown to stroll, to make Chappaqua a destination,” said Degelsmith.
Membership and Summer Events
In early July, the Chamber was looking forward to adding a little more excitement to some existing townwide summertime events. For the first time, the Wednesday night concerts at Recreation Field also featured food vendors; for example, Le Jardin du Roi was planning on offering barbeque offerings, while Gail Patrick’s was making sure that younger concert-goers found kid-friendly food as well. And Chappaqua’s traditional Sidewalk Sales, always a big draw for bargain hunters, featured local cuisine as well. Working with the Chappaqua-Millwood Business Association and town restaurants, the Chamber promoted the new component “A Taste of Chappaqua” to offer culinary samples during the Sale.
Bringing Community Together
The Chamber’s first order of business upon its creation in late spring was to focus on “branding” and making both merchants and community members aware of the group’s potential. Part of this effort was to work on ideas to promote Millwood as well; one such idea may bring concerts to the two parks on the west side of town (Gedney and Millwood) and also to bring residents to Millwood and to its merchants. The Chamber is not only about planning events; its other goal is to show small business how they can support each other via networking and other opportunities. To that end, plans were being made to offer workshops on everything from signage to using social media like Facebook and Twitter to engage and inform customers and the community at large.
The Chamber’s roster of members appeared to have easily surpassed the 100 mark at press time. It reflected the hidden diversity of New Castle. After obtaining a list of 400 local business, Degelsmith visited or cold-called many, from stores to photography studios, non-profit organizations, and home businesses. Most were eager to attend the Chamber’s first meeting, and word of mouth helped too.
Member businesses each pay annual dues of $150-$500 (depending on number of employees). At the moment, rather than have its own website, the Chamber is being “hosted” by NewCastleNow.org, because of the large number of residents it reaches on a weekly basis. Degelsmith is the only salaried employee (see sidebar); the Chamber’s Board of Directors is made up of residents and merchants Rob Greenstein, Tara Mikolay, Christine Yeres, Robin Murphy and Rich Glotzer.
This summer, the Chamber was reaching out to both the Town Board and the Chappaqua Central School District Board of Education and PTA to foster good working relationships and hopefully plan future events in conjunction with one another. Possible autumn events being discussed, according to Degelsmith, included a pumpkin carving contest, and having middle school students prepare Halloween artwork at school for display around town. There are also discussions about keeping downtown stores open late once per week to draw more shoppers.
Further down the road, the Chamber is working on a “winter stroll,” complete with ice carving, for the colder months, and even a pet parade and scavenger hunt next Spring. What is clear is that there is no shortage of enthusiasm or suggestions as to how to draw people, from New Castle and elsewhere, to Chappaqua and Millwood. According to Degelsmith, the excitement is palpable.
“It’s been really nice because all of the different organizations in town really seem to be supportive. If we all work together, the financial resources will come together as well to make a lot of things happen,” she said. As one local resident has famously said, it takes a village.
For more information, search ChamberChat or Chappaqua-Millwood Chamber of Commerce at newcastle NOW.org, “like” the Chamber on Facebook or “follow” it on Twitter, or contact Degelsmith at Linda@chappaqua-millwoodchamber.org.
[stextbox id="info" caption="Linda Degelsmith: The Chamber’s Executive Director Jumps Right in"]
Chappaqua resident Linda Degelsmith didn’t seek out the position of Chamber of Commerce Executive Director; rather, it sought her. Degelsmith’s varied background–from local performer with a master’s in vocal performance, to kidney/liver transplant nurse in Valhalla and per diem nurse at Mount Kisco Medical Group, to Ambulance Corps volunteer and small business owner of health assessment and maintenance company DiscoverMoreNow–didn’t necessarily steer her in the direction of running a local Chamber of Commerce, but it did make her eminently qualified in many ways and the perfect person for the job.
After investigating various Chambers in comparable towns, Chamber founders Christine Yeres and Rob Greenstein found that success really depended on a paid administrator that would be able to handle the day-to-day responsibilities that business owners otherwise might have difficulty finding the time to focus on. Yeres, Degelsmith’s co-Ambulance Corps volunteer, approached Degelsmith with the opportunity, noting that she not only understood the needs of small businesses, but had the personable manner to make a local Chamber of Commerce succeed.
“It felt like a new door was opening for me,” said Degelsmith. “It’s fun, a little intimidating at times, but I jumped right in.”
These days, Degelsmith can be found every Saturday morning at the Chappaqua Farmer’s Market promoting the Chamber, and supplying refreshing ice water on hot days along with information and even some giveaways about and from town businesses. Stop by and say hello!