Bill Ritter remembers the final days of the former Chicago Ridge/Worth Chamber of Commerce. “It just kind of fell apart. You couldn’t get people to come out (to meetings),” said Ritter, owner of Metal Masters Auto Body in Chicago Ridge.
That was 2008 when businesses were battling a down economy and keeping the chamber thriving was no simple task. Five years later, Ritter is one of several business owners in the adjoining communities eager to resurrect the chamber. And they’re not alone. Chicago Ridge Village Clerk George Schleyer and Bonnie Price, the clerk in Worth, are throwing their full support behind the plan. “It is a valuable resource,” said Price, who sent a letter to all Worth business owners notifying them of plans for a new chamber. Ritter made Chicago Ridge business owners aware of the plan, and both he and Price have received positive feedback.
But Price said it’s important to do more than discuss the possibilities of forming a new chamber. “You have to move forward,” she said. “It’s a valuable resource.” The first meeting for the new group will be held at 6:30 p.m. Sept. 19 at the Chicago Ridge Senior Center, which is inside Chicago Ridge Village Hall, 10455 S. Ridgeland Ave. Selecting officers and board members is on the agenda for the initial meeting, Schleyer said.
Ritter said he expects to face the same challenges that confronted him when he was involved in the previous chamber of commerce. The amount of time officers and directors must commit to the chamber is the “biggest challenge,” he said. Additionally, encouraging people to attend meetings and get involved can be a struggle. Schleyer said 50 members would be a good start, although not all members have to be active, he said.
Schleyer said a chamber of commerce offers several benefits including networking and a platform for sharing common problems and solutions. “People feel there’s a need for this,” he said. “It’s (about) way more than luncheons and speakers. I know how important it is. I believe a strong business community strengthens the whole community.” Price said Worth is home to numerous small businesses whose owners work “12 to 15 hours a day.” An active chamber would help those busy proprietors network and market their companies. “We want to help the businesses help promote themselves,” Schleyer said.
The chamber plans to host a monthly meeting as well as annual events such as a golf outing and business expo, but Schleyer envisions more. For example, he wants the chamber to work with landlords to fill vacant storefronts, which are noticeable in both Worth and Chicago Ridge.