At the Port Washington Chamber of Commerce's June meeting, Vice President Stretch Ryder gave a presentation entitled The Port Washington Chamber of Commerce: Past, Present and Future. His opening remarks noted the fact that the chamber will be celebrating its 75th anniversary next year. He then said, "We have seen enormous changes in the business community and face many challenges as a chamber. We have to focus on the next decade, but first it is necessary to know what we are."
He proceeded to inform the audience that Port Washington has over 1,000 businesses, including consultants who work in their homes. About 30 percent of the businesses are chamber members. "We would like to see that percent increase to 60 percent." To do this, he asked that each of the current members talk to their neighbors and get them to join. Most members pay just a $50 annual dues fee, he said.
The chamber wants to attract, maintain and promote new businesses, Ryder noted. "Our community is fractionalized by four incorporated villages and a large unincorporated area. New businesses usually do not know who to go to for various problems." He pointed out that the chamber can educate new businesses and help them deal with state, county and town governments. However, the chamber office only has one-part time employee, Bobbi Polay, and the Business Improvement District (BID) has only one part time employee - Roy Smitheimer.
Reviewing the history of the chamber, Ryder said in 1989, when Roy Smitheimer was chamber president, the chamber's board realized that a Chamber of Commerce could not take care of all things needed by the local businesses. "We decided to work toward establishing a Business Improvement District (BID) which is a local taxing district. The chamber has expenses that are not covered by membership dues alone," Ryder said. He added that projects like HarborFest and Try Port First directory do bring in extra income.
Continuing he said, "But rather than relying on voluntary membership and dues, the BID has 100 percent participation of businesses within its boundaries and is funded by a tax on those businesses." He noted that all businesses that benefit from the BID pay their share.
At its inception, it was agree that the BID would focus primarily on retaining and attracting new businesses, while the chamber would focus mainly on promotions and working with local governments. Ryder said, "The chamber must create ways to get people to do business here. The BID must make sure the business district looks great.
Commenting on the new construction that has changed the community, Ryder said, "We need to work with the town on problems as they arise. There are only three arteries coming into the community and traffic backups are occurring more frequently." He added that the chamber has always been concerned with the lack of adequate shopper parking and noted that the town has a moratorium on tier parking, but other possible solutions need to be explored. "The chamber needs to work with special districts such as the Town's Parking District and the Port Washington Garbage District to address problems that affect all businesses," Ryder said adding, "The chamber should make parking and traffic issues a priority."
Ryder spoke of the need of community support. "Let the residents know that a thriving Main Street will increase their property values. In the 1980s there were many boarded up businesses on Main Street and it was embarrassing to have people drive through town."
Ryder pointed out that the chamber has no control over what businesses come and go. However, he said, "We should be putting together a five-year plan to focus on the direction Port Washington should be going."
Following Ryder's presentation, some discussion took place.
Brenda Garfield asked how could the community become more involved. Ryder suggested having a column in the local papers written by various board members. Garfield said 90 percent of her customers are from out of town. They also come from out of town to go to Port's restaurants. Ryder suggested that the chamber could market the waterfront and Port's historic areas. "Port Washington is a peninsula, and we need to make Port Washington a destination."
Ryder noted that the chamber brings people into town for the HarborFest and Octoberfest. "For people who live here, there are many shopping alternatives (i.e. The Miracle Mile, Roosevelt Field, Home Depot, Cosco, etc.). To encourage people to shop here, the businesses may have to look at pricing."
It was pointed out that residents avoid Main Street because of the problems of parking and traffic. However, another merchant countered that other towns have the same problem. Another said, "People want to park in front of the stores, although when they shop at malls they often have to walk farther."
PWPD Lieutenant Ron DeMeo said the merchants often take spaces that are for customers and feed the meters all day. He suggested that they park farther away from Main Street until another solution is reached.
Board member Phyllis Joseph, said that the parking lots should have spaces available for the merchants.
Karen Eckert said the BID is doing a great job improving the streetscape with benches and new street signs. She said she would like to see fresh flowers on the lampposts for next year. BID Executive Director Roy Smitheimer said the BID doesn't have the budget for that. The program would cost $20,000 and fresh plants need to be watered six to seven days a week.
Mo Wolfe suggested that the chamber consider having a shuttle bus to take people from parking areas to the Main Street shopping area. Ryder said the LIRR tried a commuter shuttle and found that people who live here did not want to use a shuttle, but said the issue should be addressed again. Smitheimer added that he is looking into a trolley.
Wolfe said Port has become the "fitness capital" of Long Island and suggested we run a "Fitness Day" event. She said it could include the health food stores and health professionals.
Bill Solomon suggested that chamber members should ask themselves why they would like to spend a day in Port. Martin said "we have Manhasset Bay as the major attraction, but the stores do not stay open late. "We should promote late nights for restaurants and stores," he said.
Lisa Baade suggested the chamber have a site at the LIRR station for visitor information and maps of businesses.
Ryder reiterated his opening remarks that for now the chamber needs more participation. The chamber's e-mail is PWCOC@optonline.net and the BID e-mail is GPWBID@optonline.net. Roy Smitheimer reminded everyone of the new Port Washington website: pwguide.com
New members welcomed to the chamber this month are: Northwestern Mutual Financial Services and MaryAnn Luczak, an insurance planner at 58 Birch Street: AMDM and Adrian Miller, a sales trainer and consultant located at 43 Park Avenue; and InterPersonal Counceling, Inc. and Catherine G. Braun, a counselor, coach and trainer located at 14 Vanderventer Avenue.