was hard, but for its founding members, building a group that lasts will be a new challenge.
At their first regular meeting, held Wednesday at , provisional board members met with town merchants to discuss what the group has to offer, hear their concerns and plan for getting the word out.
“Really, we want to just use this meeting to get out our message, what’s been done and what we’re doing in the future," said board member and co-founder Rob Greenstein, a self-employed attorney who lives in Chappaqua.
Talk focused extensively on how the chamber can be promoted.
“Our main focus is figuring out as many ways as possible to connect the merchants to the residents," Greenstein said.
“We’re just trying to find ways so that we can get the word out there and get people shopping local," said Linda Degelsmith, who lives in town and will work as the chamber's paid executive director to oversee its operations.
Already, according to Dagelsmith, the chamber has a table out during the Chappaqua Farmers Market on Saturdays. She would like to see a new merchant featured there every week, perhaps along with a raffle, as a way to generate excitement for businesses.
Greenstein noted that the group's temporary online home, news site New Castle NOW, provides a better benefit than immediately launching a website from scratch at this moment, citing its existing audience. Additionally, the chamber is doing social media outreach with Facebook and Twitter accounts.
One attendee suggested that a paper-based approach for promotion should also be used, which was met with support. Creating a special map to place merchants was another idea that drew interest, and one that is a best practice. owner Cindy Lupica noted that when she had a store in Pleasantville, a map there was successful. Greenstein suggested that a contest for high school students could be held to design one.
Grace Bennett, editor of local magazine Inside Chappaqua, offered to distribute print copies of the chamber's business directory with an upcoming issue. She is also offering a full-page ad for the group.
Board members repeatedly emphasized the need for the chamber's ranks to swell through membership, which will bring an influx of expertise, manpower and funding to provide for local events.
“We all wear a lot of different hats but if we work together it really eases the load," said co-owner, and board member, Tara Mikolay. She used this summer's sidewalk sale in Chappaqua as an example for getting everybody involved.
Having Dagelsmith as a salaried employee - she is also a nurse for Mount Kisco Medical Group - is seen by the board as crucial, with the feeling that just having volunteers run it will be harder due to the added burden that would come alongside running businesses. A portion of the members' dues will go to funding her salary, which was answered in response to a merchant's question.
Dues and Out-of-Town Merchants
Prospective members asked about the dues structure, which has a tiered formula. Businesses with more employees will pay higher rates, with the higher tier coming in at $550.
Chuck Napoli, a local architect, asked why the structure should be used, noting the added costs for businesses of paying more employees.
Mikolay said they felt it was fair and that it is a model used elsewhere. She also voted the value that members will get in the way of promotion and social media.
Conversation turned several times to the role of out-of-town merchants, who can also join.
Greenstein, whose business is based out of town, noted that New Castle's demographics are good for buying power, something that will attract merchants form elsewhere.
“We have great demographics," he said. "People are going to want to connect to the residents of New Castle.”
The positive side effect, he explained, is that their dues will help fund local events and promote shopping locally. It was also explained that excluding non-New Castle merchants could also create a legal problem.
Discounts: Are they appropriate?
Questions arose from some merchants over whether the chamber would have a role in promoting discounts as a way to draw in people. The idea of doing so, however, raised concern.
Susan Maher, owner of , felt that focusing on deals would not be good for branding or for the bottom line.
Alissa Harvey, owner of , described anecdotes with a number of people asking whether she does discounts and expressed her own wariness of them.
Responding, Mikolay said they are sensitive about the issue. She emphasized the importance of businesses instilling value instead.
“This is a quaint town to shop in. We offer customer service," she said.
One idea floated was offering a special rewards card. The plan would be to post a weekly online roundup of merchants offering something unique, whether discounts or other types of promotions, which would be tied into it.
“It doesn’t have to be a percentage discount. It could be anything you want it to do and it could change, and that’s the beauty of it," said Rich Glotzer, a board member and owner of .
With the end of the meeting, some stepped up to sign up. Greenstein, meanwhile, implored people to take membership forms and pass them along to prospective members.
“Everyone has to become our sales people," he said.
The chamber's meeting schedule is now set for the second Wednesday of each month, according to a message posted on its Facebook page.
It already has an event lined up. It announced that on June 15, Music in Chappaqua will back a concert at the gazebo near Chappaqua's Recreation Field, where member merchants will be selling food.
Greenstein also announced several potential plans for downtown. They include a potential ice cream shop, along with a proposal by Chuck Napoli to redistribute parking from the South Greeley Avenue lot and place it where the Robert E. Bell Middle School field is - the lot would be capped with a turf field roof - and to fill in the lot with new retail and a performing arts theatre. Napoli proposed something similar in 2007, New Castle NOW reported at the time.