Longtime Edgebrook-Sauganash chamber executive director leaves post for new suburban job
by CYRYL JAKUBOWSKI
North Edgebrook resident and longtime Edgebrook-Sauganash Chamber of Commerce executive director Jennifer Herren Gatesman is stepping away from the group to begin as new executive director of the Wilmette-Kenilworth Chamber of Commerce beginning Aug. 1.
Gatesman recently discussed her tenure with the chamber, the group’s biggest accomplishments, its trials and tribulations, and her love of the Edgebrook and Sauganash communities.
Gatesman began as the director of the Sauganash chamber in 2010 until it merged with the Edgebrook chamber in 2017. She has been involved with the Edgebrook Community Association, the Wildwood School PTA and the Wildwood School LSC. She has also had a 16-year career in different communications roles with the United Airlines.
“I enjoy community work and I find it to be very rewarding and I like the chamber because I like business and I like to help people,” she said. Gatesman said her decision to step into the new role in the suburbs happened quickly because that chamber’s director moved to another opportunity and recommended her.
She said businesses who become members of area chambers of commerce can count on the groups to serve as cheerleaders and that it is important for small businesses to have boosters so they can thrive.
“We are a small community (Edgebrook and Sauganash) that borders the suburbs and its critical to try to keep our economic spending power local to avoid slippage to the suburbs and we like to keep our dollars in our community so we have a strong and vibrant business quarter which helps the local schools, helps the residents’ property values and it helps the business owners themselves to put a big stake in the ground by setting up shop here,” Herren Gatesman said.
For her, the most prominent accomplishment with the chamber came with the formation of Special Service Area 62 in Sauganash. She said that to date the service area has generated $675,000 since its formation in 2014.
“It’s an annual community improvement fund that business owners and property owners contribute to and it provides an economic development organization the ability to make street improvements to the neighborhood,” she said.
She said the Sauganash chamber has focused on beautification efforts, including helping to install sculptures along Cicero Avenue, decorative benches from re-purposed street banners and with business marketing.
Most recently, Herren Gatesman helped to create the Edgebrook Beautification Committee.
“We were lucky enough to have Alderman Nugent and Alderman Napolitano to pitch in some money for Edgebrook beautification,” she said. The group voted to install permanent community identifying banners and other street-scape elements that have not been installed yet by the city.
“They have been attentive and welcoming because I do believe that they really do care about the business community and that small businesses are the backbone of this community,” Gatesman said.
During the pandemic she was really impressed by the way residents came together to support local businesses.
“We were very fortunate compared to other communities that lost a sizable number of businesses and we did not,” she said.
Gatesman said that the most frustrating issue for the chamber during the pandemic was that Chicago had different rules than some of the suburbs and it created challenges.
“There were different phases and capacity limits for different businesses in the city that were not in the suburbs and it was harder because the city rules had to be one-size-fits-all across a large world class city so they are not as flexible or customized to the business community in a border ward,” Gatesman said.
She also recalled a difficult time for area businesses when there was ongoing sewer reconstruction on Devon Avenue that was “a big disruptor.”
“It was not only an economic blow to them especially because people could skirt north to avoid all of that but it was also an operational blow because the dust and the dirt and grime that got kicked up into their stores by the work was making streets less attractive to foot traffic,” she said.
Social media has changed the business climate in a relatively short period of time. She said that when she started 12 years ago with the chamber many businesses were only beginning to learn about social media. And she said the chamber held “pizza social” events that taught business owners how to use social media to enhance their businesses.
But despite beginning a new job in the northern suburbs, she said she is staying in the community and will miss the people and the business relationships she has formed.
“But I will not stop shopping here and I will still walk into the stores and support businesses because I really do care,” she said.