Claremont Chamber has adapted to a new normal

by Mick Rhodes |

On the cusp of its centennial, the Claremont Chamber of Commerce is alive and well despite the economic hardships a year in lockdown has wrought.

“It’s been the year of the great reset,” said Chamber President Randy Lopez. “But the state of the chamber is we are good. Like every other business nonprofit and person in the country I guess, or the world, actually, we’ve all had impact. As an organization we’ve obviously been impacted financially, but with everything going on, we’re strong; we’re going to be fine.”

Like organizations across the country, the nonprofit—in the business of promoting Claremont business since 1922—has adapted to the new normal over the past 12 months. And like many of those same businesses, it’s had to furlough employees (though just two) and cut expenses.

But it’s also grown, adding 28 new members this past year, bringing its total membership to 397. It also added six to its chairman’s circle, for new total of 15.

Its showcase event is the annual Village Venture, which was canceled in 2020. This year though, there is hope. The Chamber has tentative plans to hold it Saturday, October 23.

“We’re going to do everything we can to do it, not just financially, but because it’s just such a touchstone of the community,” Mr. Lopez said. “It’s such an important and fun event for all of us. And it also supports our businesses. It drives a lot of traffic, so we want to do that.”

The chamber has spent this most unusual year doing what it’s always done: advocating for and promoting Claremont businesses, cultivating networking and synergy among its membership, and working to push business-friendly legislation.

Its hallmark mixers, networking and education events have continued as per usual, with the exception of them taking place virtually.

“We’re doing our virtual women in business luncheon, our virtual breakfast, and even a virtual coffee,” Mr. Lopez said. “So we have all of these online for our members to just continue that relationship.”

Mr. Lopez is looking forward to the day when the chamber can again meet in person. “But in other ways we’ve still been connecting and we feel that we still have those same conversations.”

And also just like the vast majority of corporations and organizations around the globe, the pandemic has caused the chamber brass to realize not everything needs to happen face-to-face. Many meetings traditionally held in conference rooms—with the inherent expenses involved with feeding people, and everyone traveling and taking time off from their day jobs—can be just as productive over Zoom.

“Oh yeah, I think there’s a lot of silver linings,” Mr. Lopez said. “First off, with this reset everybody’s kind of gone back to their organization, their business and looked at, ‘Okay what are we doing strategically? Does this support what we’re doing? What do our customers and our members want?’ So there have obviously been insights.

“We were joking about it this morning that a year ago we would have spent 20 minutes just trying to get everyone online. Now we’ve managed to have virtual meetings of all ages. Little kids can go online, our seniors, everybody can. So there’s an accessibility that I’m really excited and happy with.

Mr. Lopez was an early adopter of what used to be called “telecommuting.” The modern term, “working remotely,” has become ubiquitous in business, medicine, nonprofits and education.

“To be able to do this globally will definitely make meetings more accessible and will probably make communication easier,” he said. “People will think about when they really want to get together in person and when they don’t need to. So all of that is great.”

Along with Village Venture, the chamber has also hosted community events around Halloween and the holidays. That tradition continued this year as well with new twists. For Halloween, the chamber created a scarecrow party, with more than 80 businesses and residents displaying decorated scarecrows.

“That was a big success and was a lot of fun,” Mr. Lopez said. “We did the same thing for the holidays with the decorating contest.”

Another staple chamber activity is advocating for is legislative change.

“Right now we’re working on the economic recovery, working on sending letters in support of helping businesses start off,” Mr. Lopez said. “For example, working on Assembly Bill 259, which provides restaurants with a  tax credit for a portion of the fee paid for alcohol licenses, and SB389, allowing restaurants to sell alcoholic beverages with to-go orders. We’re also working on exemptions from sales and use taxes on vehicle license fees, and AB230, which will help telecommuting, allowing employees flexibility to choose their own schedules.”

The chamber has also been promoting the city through Discover Claremont, a website funded by the Claremont Tourism Business Improvement District, which it manages.

“We’ve been getting a lot of coverage,” Mr. Lopez said. “We’ve been focusing on trying to drive hyper local visitors, people coming into Claremont for the day or the weekend. As we open up, we’ll probably see people won’t be coming from out of state as much until the colleges open up obviously.”

The city was featured in the May/June edition of Westways magazine, and in California Road Trips magazine. The chamber has also worked on its Discover Claremont app, which includes a directory, a calendar of events and other resources, as well as the @visitclaremont Instagram page.

“We’ve had some good stuff,” Mr. Lopez said.

Mr. Lopez was hopeful that the chamber will be able to host some of its in-person events in the coming year.

“I think it’s still planning without inking in specific dates or times moving ahead,” he said. “What I’m doing is we’re calling this the year of the great reset. And I think with the board we’re hoping that we’re getting back to normalcy with businesses and with the case numbers dropping. Once we’re able to do events safely in person, we will have events safely in person.”



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