Weekly Feature

2018-01-10 / Front Page

Chamber looks to rebound in 2018 as it sets new direction


As the Clarence Chamber of Commerce enters 2018 without a president at its helm, those involved with the organization view the new year as an opportunity-filled clean slate.

In October, the chamber saw the departure of Jan Reicis as president following a two-year tenure. Board Chairman Jim Bennett noted that a search committee was being organized by the chamber’s board of directors to find a replacement.

Bennett, a senior partner at the law firm Bennett Schechter Arcuri & Will LLP, added that the chamber will look to create new benefits for chamber members that will enable a new restructuring going forward.

“It’s a bit of a redesign for the [president’s] position, and we’re definitely in the midst of refocusing,” said chamber Treasurer Alayne Donner.

The chamber is set to resume its networking events and A.M. business blenders in the new year, with the idea of having a different member business host each time.

The chamber also sponsors some of the town’s most well-attended community events. They include the chamber awards dinner, the Taste of Clarence, the Women in Business seminar, legislative breakfast and monthly morning and evening Business Blenders.

Is there a challenge at the prospect of preparing for these events without a president’s direction?

“We like to view them as opportunities,” said Bob Geiger, a Clarence Town Board member and the town’s liaison to the chamber.

As Clarence continues to rapidly grow its residential and economic bases, the chamber will look to assist in defining the town’s new trajectory for Western New Yorkers unfamiliar with its recent progress.

In September, a bike crawl was organized by Discover Main Street, a nonprofit formed to promote commercial offerings in Clarence. The ride began at the West Shore Brewing Company, located at 10995 Main St., and meandered through a Clarence Hollow commercial district that has seen decades of financial turbulence.

Part of the town’s Vision: Main Street plan — which provides a variety of recommendations related to streetscape, zoning, lane reconfigurations and pedestrian amenities — includes bike lanes from one end of the town to the other. Town officials believe events such as the bike crawls can be a way to encourage public support for such initiatives, as well as showcase Clarence as a town ripe for new economic development.

“These events have been bringing in outsiders to Clarence, and the reception has been great,” said Geiger. “For the last one, we had people from all over coming into our restaurants. They used to come down Goodrich Road and turn right to go to Transit. That’s where the restaurants were. Now, we have seven or eight of them in the opposite direction.”

That direction is one that the chamber hopes to develop even further, and its first opportunity to showcase such a perspective will come on March 1, when the chamber’s annual awards dinner will be held at Samuel’s Grande Manor.

The theme is “Back to the Future,” and the honorees list was recently released by the chamber: E. Peter Forrestel as Citizen of the Year, Robert Lenz as Lifetime Achiever, Clarence Toastmasters Club as Organization of the Year, Picone Construction Corp. as Large Business of the Year, and Monkey See, Monkey Do Bookstore as Small Business of the Year.

The night’s theme, says Donner, is a metaphor for the Town of Clarence’s vision — one in which the town’s days of economic vibrancy are intertwined with its distinctive historical identity as Erie County’s first incorporated municipality.

According to Donner, businesses in town have already shown that they’re buying into the idea, given that the two largest sponsorships for the chamber’s awards dinner have already been taken.

“We’re going to involve all hamlets of the town,” Donner said. “This is a big moment for us.”

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