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Heart and Soul: Focusing on the Eden Chamber

HAMBURG — Column by The Sun correspondent Christina Abt.

Small towns are strongly defined by the businesses and organizations that populate them. The opening and closing of merchants within a rural community has a major impact on that community’s economy and its people. Which brings us to today’s column topic of the Eden Chamber of Commerce.

The Eden Chamber was established in 1950, by a group of business owners who wanted to connect commerce and community.

While the chamber became an influential town power on business and social levels, its greatest impact became serving as the driving force behind the Eden Corn Festival.

Chamber directors understood the challenge facing Eden’s not-for-profits, in trying to balance budgets on fluctuating donations.

They also realized that, in a small town with a steady population, as organizations increased, donations would likely split among them. The chamber’s solution was to create a money-making event for Eden not-for-profits to operate together and then share in the profits.

From the start, the chamber served as the anchor of the Eden Corn Festival, shepherding this event through more than four decades of fundraising success.

Additionally, the chamber continued running business workshops, town-wide social events, displaying the town flags and Christmas decorations and providing health insurance for business owners and their employees. They were a major cog in the town’s wheelhouse. And then the world changed.

Volunteers went to work, people had less time for chamber functions, the Internet provided a “shop local” alternative and a new breed of management assumed Eden Corn Festival operations. Suddenly the Eden Chamber’s prime purpose became providing health insurance and displaying Christmas decorations.

Two weeks ago, members of Eden’s chamber board held a public meeting, to discuss the chamber’s future. At the meeting, it was made clear that membership, dues and interest were dwindling.

Board members wanted to know if they should permanently shut the chamber doors. In the end, the chamber received a reprieve, as a small but vocal group of Eden residents spoke in favor of life support options for the ailing organization.

In the end, it will take more than meetings and strategic suggestions to keep the Eden Chamber alive and well. It will take a renewed effort by chamber officials to provide interesting and entertaining programming for town business owners and residents. It will take invigorated marketing efforts on the chamber’s part to convince people that they need to belong and participate. It will take membership benefits as integral as health insurance.

Most significantly, for the Eden Chamber of Commerce to survive and prosper, it’s going to take the interest and dedication of the people who live and work in the rural community.

No matter how many ways the chamber board tries to remain an integral part of the town’s lifeblood, it won’t matter if people in the town do not become invested in the chamber’s future.

For my nickel and for a number of reasons relating to this town, it would be a shame if the Eden Chamber ceases to exist.

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