Press-Republican

December 7, 2012

Chamber marks 100th anniversary

DAN HEATH
Press-Republican

PLATTSBURGH — The North Country Chamber of Commerce celebrated its 100th anniversary Thursday in a room crowded with longtime members and local officials.

Clinton County Historian and Kent-Delord House Museum Executive Director John Krueger provided details of that history in character as Frank Hall, husband of Frances Delord Webb, the last member of the Delord family to have lived in the home. 

WALK THROUGH HISTORY

Then called the Plattsburgh Chamber of Commerce, the organization was formed by a group of businessmen on April 22, 1912, and officially incorporated in October of that year. It originally had 258 members and annual dues of $10.

At that time, Lozier Motor Co. was the toast of the North Country, Krueger said, having announced plans to increase its workforce from 325 to 500 employees in Plattsburgh. 

The local chamber was one of many groups that asked U.S. President Franklin Roosevelt in 1933 to change the date of Thanksgiving from Nov. 30 to Nov. 23 so there could be more shopping days until Christmas. While it didn’t happen then, Congress decided in 1941 that Thanksgiving would be held on the fourth Thursday of November.

In 1959, the chamber sent a letter to major oil companies urging a 2-cent cut in the price of a gallon of gasoline, as many felt 34.9 cents per gallon was too much to pay.

“Maybe we should try that (price) again,” Krueger joked. 

PRIDE IN COMMUNITY

Rod Giltz, chairman of the Chamber Board of Directors in 1967, was only 27 years old when he assumed that post.

“I was what you call a trainee president,” he said.

At that time, the chamber was dominated by downtown business owners.

Giltz said he remembers City Police officers carrying bags of nickels to put in expired parking meters for out-of-town visitors. Instead of a parking ticket, the violator would receive a note that the money had been donated courtesy of downtown merchants. 

He recalls his years of involvement with the chamber fondly.

“I’m proud to be part of this community and proud to be part of this chamber and what it is today,” Giltz said. 

CANADA CRUCIAL

Krueger said that one recurring theme over the years has been the importance of our Canadian neighbors. There was an eventual realization that they were more than tourists but also business people who might be interested in opening a New York location.

In 1955, Canadians spent an estimated $15 million to $20 million in the community. That figure is now estimated at about $1.5 billion a year.

“Please be nice to these people,” Krueger implored.

FULFILLING

The first female chair of the Chamber Board of Directors was Helen White in 1988. She was followed, in 1989, by Hope Coryer, who continues to be an active supporter of the chamber.

Coryer has been associated with three chamber leaders during her time. Ros Leahy, the first, was a prime mover behind a partnership between business and education. She was followed by Amy Whitehead and then by current North Country Chamber President Garry Douglas.

Coryer credits Douglas with carrying the chamber to heights never thought possible.

“The chamber is one of the best boards I think you can serve on,” she said.

Krueger said one of the toughest times was when Plattsburgh Air Force Base closed in 1995. The chamber is one of many groups and individuals in the community that have enabled the area to make the best of a bad situation, he said.

Other prominent achievements since 2000 include the Port of Excellence at the border with Quebec on Interstate 87 in Champlain, creation and growth of Plattsburgh International Airport and the new Tourism Destination Master Plan.

“The chamber continues to do great things for the North Country,” he said.

BUSINESSES SALUTED

The chamber recognized two businesses that have been members since its beginning: Plattco and Brown Funeral Home.

A number of government officials and economic-development leaders provided letters for a time capsule to be opened at the chamber’s 200th anniversary. It will also contain reports and plans that detail the chamber’s efforts.

CONTINUED GROWTH

Douglas said that when the chamber was formed in 1912, it was the start of two great voyages: one was successful (the chamber), and one ended in disaster (the Titanic).

Many of the themes of the chamber’s original focuses remain relevant to this day, he said, such as transportation and the area’s relationship with Canada. 

The chamber has continued to grow through a regional focus, including alliances with chambers in Clinton, Essex, Franklin, Hamilton and Warren counties. It now has more than 4,200 member businesses.

Douglas said it will be important to make sure to keep up with changes in areas such as transportation so the region doesn’t get left behind.

“The thing about our chamber’s journey is it will never end.”

Email Dan Heath: dheath@pressrepublican.com