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Chamber to disband

Staff writer

Marion Chamber of Commerce will disband after this year, chamber president Don Noller announced Friday.

Chamber board member Gene Winkler said secretary Margo Yates taking a job as city parks and recreation director was the final straw in a lengthy decision process.

“We’d have to get out of that room, find our own place, pay rent and utilities and all that stuff,” he said. “We were at the point where we couldn’t afford to do it.”

Winkler also said lack of participation by non-board members was a problem.

“The board of directors have been doing about all of it because we don’t get help from the rest of the businesses,” he said.

He cited subcommittees that became defunct. He recalled a meeting in recent years in which the board issued a sign-up for subcommittees in an effort to revitalize them.

“We had people listed on committees and people scratched their name off the committee,” he said.

The future of the chamber had been a topic of discussion in recent monthly meetings and the chamber board of directors made a final decision Oct. 20.

“Everything considered, we just felt like this was the way to go,” Winkler said. “Time will tell. Maybe it wasn’t the way to go. But hindsight is 20-20.”

Noller said making the announcement was one of the most difficult things he’s had to do.

“A lot of it came down to dollars and cents,” he said. “Going forward, we knew we were going to have a lot of expenses.”

Yates and board member Shawn Vondenkamp said they believed functions of the chamber that were important will be kept alive by other groups or individuals.

“Maybe ‘chamber of commerce’ is an old-school word,” Vondenkamp said. “When every business on Main St. used to be retail, the group was different. It was easier to do a retail sales promotion.”

Winkler said hopefully the community will take up the responsibilities that once belonged to the chamber, with more individuals making an impact.

“Maybe we’ll have different people that will step up and take something on as a single project,” he said. “You’d get a group that would just do Art in the Park. Another group would just do Community Christmas. Maybe in the long run it’ll be better.”

Noller in his announcement said the chamber will finish the year with a $3,000 to $4,000 shortfall. Yates said part of that was attributable to the chamber not accepting dues for next year’s Art in the Park at this year’s event. The chamber also collects dues early from some businesses to make it through the end of the year.

“Chambers just typically don’t have tons of money,” Yates said.

Board members agreed the monthly luncheon will be difficult to replace, and will be missed by the community.

“It’s a shame we have to lose it, and we don’t want to lose it,” Winkler said.

He added that Marion Economic Development Inc. has been approached about the possibility of holding a quarterly business luncheon.

Noller said the business community will be “fine going forward.” He was confident events the community wanted would be maintained.

“Some of us have been on the board for a lot of years,” he said. “Some of these events, while they’re important to us, may not be to the rest of the community. Just because we like them doesn’t mean everybody else does.”

Yates was confident that while the chamber will be missed, it doesn’t spell an end for business prosperity in Marion.

“It’s kind of turning the page, it’s not the end of the book,” Yates said. “If I didn’t think it’d be OK, then I would’ve gone kicking and screaming. And I ain’t kicking and screaming. It’ll be all right.”

Last modified Oct. 28, 2015

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