Chamber of Commerce helps area through busy and slow times--5 year anniversary section

Although the Bethany-Fenwick Area Chamber of Commerce has been around for about 25 years, they are celebrating a smaller five-year anniversary this week, as well. In the debut Feb. 6, 2004, issue of the Coastal Point, it was reported that the Chamber’s Board of Directors had approved plans for a 560-foot expansion to their oceanside digs.

Five years later, their updated building now boasts a visitor’s center and conference room, plus added office space to help accommodate the Chamber staff members who assist the more-than-800 members — up from 600 in 2004 — to give their businesses maximum exposure. Besides membership numbers, they have also improved the value membership offers to those members by improving their Web site and becoming more technologically streamlined.

“We have had tremendous growth on the Internet side,” said Steve Morgan, president-elect of the Chamber and a mortgage planner with A. Anderson Scott Mortgage. “With more people opting for links, increased traffic to the site and banner ads, we have gone from printing paper to a more automated system — more streamlined.”

Tim Haley — owner of The Blue Crab, a downtown Bethany crab restaurant that joined the Chamber in 2004 — said that the Chamber has been an invaluable asset to the success of his business over the past five years. Haley is also a newly-appointed Chamber board member.

“The Chamber has been a tremendous help,” said Haley, “with networking, and their business after-hours. Also, the Taste of Coastal Delaware has given us a great opportunity to showcase our food and dishes to a lot of new customers.”

Haley added, “We have doubled in size in sales since that first year, and the Chamber has been a big part of that.”

Brian Lesniewski of Surf’s Edge Subs and Pizzeria in Fenwick Island, who also joined the Chamber in 2004, has seen “good changes” since then. “The Chamber has helped out a lot with help with advertising and flyers. They are awesome.”

For Morgan, and his wife, Ann (Turner) Morgan, who were both raised in the area, coming back to the beach in 2004 was a new beginning after both left fast-paced careers near Washington, D.C. The booming growth and subsequent slowdown he has seen as a mortgage planner is almost self-explanatory, but Morgan is not of the doom-and-gloom crowd. He stressed that a positive attitude and hard work can make all the difference.

“It’s a great time to buy,” he said. “The values are down and the lenders are still lending money. And there are multiple ways to get in a house. Clearly, it’s a buyer’s market. Several years ago, nobody cared, because the sellers were winning. Now the pendulum has shifted and you see that arrogance no longer. People are looking for bargain deals, but in a down market people are still making money and still working. It’s just no longer easy.”

Morgan said that although, like many people, he experienced downturns in his profession from 2006 to 2007 and again from 2007 to 2008, the beginning of 2009 seems to be promising.

“In the first days of 2009, I’ve already seen 45 to 50 percent of all of last’s year’s business,” he noted.

Morgan also added that the Chamber, as a whole, has weathered the storm of a less-than-stable economy and a volatile real estate market at the beach, while managing to see growth, starting with their physical expansion that was approved back in 2004. They have seen the additions of staff members and new positions, as well as the hiring of Executive Director Andy Cripps after past director Karen McGrath gave eight years of service.

For the future, the Chamber is dedicated to what they have always done in serving the customers they have and maintaining growth — “uniting businesses and professional entities to accomplish collectively what could not be done individually.”

“We have shown value in our retention in membership,” said Morgan, something that is almost, if not more important, than growth, because — especially in an economy such as this — the only thing more important than getting customers is keeping them.