New business group forms in Edgebrook
by CYRYL JAKUBOWSKI
Frustration with the Edgebrook Chamber of Commerce’s efforts to attract business in the area has led some local business owners to form a new merchants’ group.
Everyday Edgebrook, a nonprofit group started by Laura Guenther, the owner of Local Goods Chicago, 5354 W. Devon Ave., and Noel Buican, the owner of the Aqua Salon, 5346 W. Devon Ave., celebrated its formation last week. More than a dozen Edgebrook businesses have joined the group, which has begun collecting membership dues.
"We started working on this about one and a half years ago in order to spruce up the neighborhood and get more businesses here, and we were advised by the alderman that we should address this through the chamber and we’ve tried, but it wasn’t going anywhere," Guenther said.
"The chamber doesn’t have a good understanding of how foot traffic works and how walk-in business keeps the stores afloat," Guenther said. "We want to attract more shoppers, and we want to make Edgebrook more attractive for people to move here. We need to be more proactive. We are not trying to compete with the chamber."
The group is planning a sidewalk sale and other activities, and on Feb. 28 held its "launch party" at North Branch Arts, 5421 W. Devon Ave.
"(Alderman) Mary O’Connor said that we should see about bringing our activities into the chamber to see if we would get some financial support, but unfortunately they seem to be more interested in their own businesses and not into what direction we want to take the community," Buican said."
The chamber formed an Everyday Edgebrook subcommittee to work on the issues raised by the some of the business owners, according to chamber president Julie Schultz. However, a dispute over how board members of the chamber are elected led some of the owners to quit the chamber.
"We tried to get more members on the board, but after the election of officers I and other members have resigned from the board and decided to go at it alone," Guenther said. "We don’t get any money from the city, but we get membership dues from businesses and people also donate."
Buican said that the chamber consists primarily of businesses, such as real estate agents, bankers and investors which do not have to rely on foot traffic to survive.
"The (Edgebrook Community Association) deals with more residential issues, the chamber deals with business issues, and we are bridging the gap and letting the community guide us," Buican said.
Some business owners hope that the $35,000 in funding that the chamber annually receives from the city can go toward a community improvement project, Buican said.
While the group and the chamber held separate meetings with city officials, no formal request to eliminate the funding has been made, O’Connor’s spokesman Nick Haak said.
Schultz said that she is surprised at how the situation has escalated.
"It is unsettling, and it is sad that people can be that angry and that there is no coming together and reasoning like adults in a civil way," Schultz said. "I’m still positive that we can come together and get some good specifics suggestions on how to move this community forward."
Schultz said that the chamber has been a part of the area for 50 years and that it has always presented opportunities for businesses to become more visible, such as with Christmas and Halloween activities, golf outings and other networking events. She said that it is not a good idea to have "two kind of chambers in the neighborhood."
"I was sad when Mary O’Connor said (at an aldermanic debate) that the chamber was weak," Schultz said.
Schultz said that disagreement over the election of board members stemmed from the fact that some individuals were not eligible and that the chamber’s bylaws could not be changed in time.
"We feel that we are meeting the community’s needs, but we always look for suggestions," Schultz said. "Why not join the chamber for a bit and see if you want to be on the board. It makes more sense to be a part of this chamber than to start from scratch and go at it alone."
Buican said that the group has received more than $4,000 in contributions and looks forward to bringing change on its own. "We have no intention of being a part of this chamber," she said.
Alderman Margaret Laurino said that she hopes that both organizations can find "common ground that is in the best interest of the Edgebrook business community."