Written by Dagmar Fors Karppi Friday, 19 March 2010 00:00
Listening to Alex Gallego, retiring president of the Oyster Bay Chamber of Commerce you are going to hear a lot of superlatives. Alex sees the positive side of life and it comes out as he talks. That was reflected in the Thursday, Feb. 28 induction ceremony held at The Homestead Restaurant. Mr. Gallego made sure that all the volunteers were acknowledged as he turned over the presidency to Michele Browner: Paige Dawson passed the vice presidency on to Carmine Pirolo.
After three years as president Mr. Gallego said, “It was time to allow our dynamic and fantastic board to pick a new leader. This process allows organizations like the chamber to grow and thrive.” He said he was most proud of “Building bridges with the help of our team to so many of the local organizations with one common goal – to build a better Oyster Bay.” He was also proud of helping the chamber re-establish itself as a leading organization in the hamlet.
Before Mr. Gallego took over the leadership in the chamber, attendance at meetings was very low – down to a handful of members. That has changed over the years – in part due to the friendships that have been formed between the members, as they socialize at their Business After Hours, as was shown by the friendly conversations evident at their induction meeting at The Homestead, with the chamber hosting the dinner. The “floor show” was the presentation of awards to all the volunteers who were acknowledged for their service.
Paige Dawson, past vice president said that “Yes, we have all become friends.” She credited the success of the chamber to a change of direction. She said, “At one point we held regular meetings and then found that people preferred the Business After Hours events and if we had something to say, we said it there. To that we added some special event dinners, for the induction; and for the winter holiday program; and the spring program. We get the most turnout that way and people like the casual networking events. And it gives local businesses an opportunity to showcase themselves and to say hello.
“People work hard enough in their businesses and they need to relax. ‘Social Networking’ is the new thing – so we are already doing it. Keeping it casual but getting the message out,” said Ms. Dawson.
Mr. Gallego said of the successes of the chamber, “None of this would have been possible without our partners at the Oyster Bay Main Street Association and the Oyster Bay Civic Association – as well as the tireless effort and commitment of our board members. The impact could be felt in the way our organization can bring local government and other organizations together. An example is our Spring Splendor program which beautifies our hamlet; our fall campaign which prepares for the holiday season, starting at Thanksgiving. And, the snowflakes that now adorn our lamp posts from Stop & Shop all the way into the Hamlet. Add to that the new garbage cans and sweeper machine that keep our hamlet pristine – [thank you Town of Oyster Bay and NYS Senator Carl Marcellino].
“Our non-profits have benefited greatly from the success of the chamber and we have been able to make generous donations to organizations like Youth and Family Counseling Agency of Oyster Bay-East Norwich; UPCN; Hispanic Cultural Center; scholarships for Oyster Bay and St. Dominic seniors; all of our sports organizations, and so many others.
“Finally, our local businesses feel that impact as we continue to put programs together such as the Classic Car Show and Health Fair.”
Mr. Gallego said the chamber gets things done. “We are a volunteer force that deeply believes in making our community the best it can be. All of our initiatives focus on building commerce, and building the Oyster Bay hamlet brand. Again, we can only do that with the help of our partners, local government, and the community residents,” he said.
At one time the Oyster Bay Chamber of Commerce was the major force in the community. They applied for and got community grants for the hamlet; created the Oyster Festival; were involved in beautification for the holidays. Today with the creation of the Oyster Bay Civic Association; the Main Street Association over the past 10 years; and Rotary taking over the Oyster Festival there are more people/groups taking over some of the functions the chamber used to handle – letting them focus on business.
Mr. Gallego said, the chamber is already successful today. He added, “The chamber has to continue to build on its vision of attracting business, assisting our friends at the Railroad Museum, the WaterFront Center – our restaurants, art galleries and all local merchants by marketing their business; creating e-commerce opportunities and attracting tourism to the local area.”
He said as the economy has changes – beginning with the advent of box stores – such as Target and Wal-Mart – and now the Internet – traditional businesses will find it difficult to compete not only in our hamlet but anywhere. “This challenge requires businesses to think outside of the norm and match the current infrastructure available. This means taking the waterfront, our quaint beautiful and historic downtown, our restaurants, marina, and having entrepreneurs match this significant wealth of opportunity to the lifestyle needs of our community,” he said.
Mr. Gallego said one of the most celebrated things the chamber has done is Cruise Nights. At the February meeting he introduced all the people who help create the Tuesday night event that runs from April to October – ending just as the Oyster Festival arrives, the weekend after Colombus Day. He said, “Cruise Night is a terrific venue for our hamlet. From a passive weekly car show it has become a true engine for business creation in Oyster Bay.” It is a fundraiser for the chamber; a place for the community to gather; attracts people to the downtown restaurants; brings music to the streets; and allows business sponsorships.
He said he felt Cruise Nights could be expanded with, “More music, or creating a more child-friendly environment and building on the quaint aspects of the show will allow for more growth in the future. However, let’s be careful that we don’t expand and grow this to a point where its integrity is overtaken by the marketing of business.”
There are sponsorships for Cruise Night which have the added perk that the sponsors will have a free ad in an upcoming coupon booklet the chamber is creating.
When asked if he sees a bigger role for the chamber in the Oyster Festival, he said. “The chamber continues year by year to take a bigger role in the Oyster Fest. The Rotary has done a fantastic job of managing this event, and we are honored to partner with them and cultivate ideas to make the Oyster Fest bigger and better.”
Now that he has retired from his three year position as president, he will remain active in the group. He said, “As past president, my primary duty is to make sure that I support our new leadership in many ways; act as an Ambassador, assisting and bridging our chamber to existing relationships and new ones – as well as heading up our membership committee, and to bring the positive message of the chamber to new businesses as well as to our existing businesses.”
He added, “It has been an honor to serve the chamber of commerce and I look forward to many years of service, not only to our chamber, but also to our community.”