We are asked very often, “What is a chamber of commerce?”
According to Wikipedia, the definition is “A chamber of commerce (also referred to in some circles as a board of trade) is a form of business network, e.g., a local organization of businesses whose goal is to further the interests of businesses. Business owners in towns and cities form these local societies to advocate on behalf of the business community. Local businesses are members, and they elect a board of directors or executive council to set policy for the chamber. The board or council then hires a President, CEO or Executive Director, plus staffing appropriate to size, to run the organization.”
That sounds finite and focused, but what about……..OUR Chamber of Commerce?
In January of 2013 when we were brought on board to run the chamber, I believed that our main focus would be much as described in the above statement. That was until I sat behind the desk in the chamber. What became very clear is that administering business advocacy and promotion is only partially applicable to the daily office routine of the Greater Grass Valley Chamber of Commerce.
Along with the chamber, we operate an extremely active Visitors Center. Open seven days a week, we enjoy 25 to 30 visitors per day from as far away as Australia, and as close as Richardson Street. On the average the chamber receives 45 phone calls per day. Many of those calls are requests for visitor information or “relocation” packets, and we typically send out 8 to 10 packets each week. Additionally, we often get requests from residents to make up packets that include brochures about the points of interest in our community along with the calendar of events to present to guests coming in for a wedding or family reunion.
But, the chamber and visitors’ center is far from being just a dispenser of maps, brochures and business cards. We’ve been involved in helping school counselors from the Bay Area plan a camping excursion for 40 children, worked with a local bride to put together all of the components for her wedding, directed a recently homeless couple who came to the chamber as a last resort to the community services they needed to survive. Assisted a gentleman in applying for unemployment benefits, provided Sierra College registration information, class availability and costs to several prospective students. My personal favorite is recounting the story of two phone requests. Both callers were in search of relatives who had grown up in or had previously lived in our area. With the help of the computer and some imaginative sleuthing success was achieved in both instances.
Is this ordinary or extraordinary for our chamber? Ordinary. Not only are we business advocates and the landing spot for visitors, but the community at large looks upon the chamber as a total one stop resource. Of course, we have daily calls requesting referrals to businesses, but also for information about section 8 housing, which turn off from route 50 East will lead to Ice House Reservoir, who to call for eyeglasses for low income seniors, raccoons in the back yard, broken water mains, free firewood, where to play Bingo, which restaurants are open on holidays, requests to reserve space in city parks for gatherings, direction to local swimming holes, where to hold a memorial service, where to vote, how to file a patent for a product, the name of the new restaurant in Grass Valley, the weather for next weekend, can you find the phone number for…..…..the list goes on and on. If they don’t know who to call, they call the chamber, because as I’ve heard time and time again, “I’m calling because the chamber always knows!” Our staff is successful 99% of the time, and we keep a file full of thank you notes.
My favorite chamber challenge: On a sunny Saturday in November 2013 a family from southern California came into the chamber asking for help in locating the family plot of their Grass Valley ancestors’. The husband and wife had been to the cemetery many years previous with his parents, and the only thing that they remembered was that the cemetery was on a “hill” in Grass Valley, and the surnames of two of their ancestors. Not only were we successful in locating the family plot, but we found a photo of the headstone and information about which family members were buried there, along with the dates of birth and death. After leaving the chamber, the daughter called to thank us….…they had followed our directions to the cemetery and found the family plot. Their Thank You note is in the file.
Excuse me, the phone is ringing……“Greater Grass Valley Chamber of Commerce…”
It’s all part of another ordinary day at the chamber.