Kellie Scott of Divine Consign and Geraldine Healy of David King and Associates speak at a recent Retail Roundtable forum for small business owners who own brick and mortar stores.

The “Business Community” often gets a bad rap because it is referred to in popular culture as a single behemoth.  One solid trade bloc of capitalists with a singularity of purpose and shared value system.

Reality television shows like Shark Tank and The Profit oversimplify us into two typecasts:  the creative entrepreneur who has a good idea but no business sense (but plenty of emotional baggage) and the heartless corporate raider / investor whose opinion, smarts and wealth ultimately drive decisions impact jobs, locations and product.

Even within our local small business community, differences abound.  There is a diversity of approach, values, objectives, business model, location, trade-offs and priorities that preclude lumping together our two thousand business owners.  While they share a need for access to customers, reliable human resources, and a reasonable supply chain, they have different opinions as to how to succeed.   

For this reason, our Chamber encourages subsets of members with similar issues to gather.  Called “affinity groups,” these business-driven groups allow those with particular concerns to speak openly in a supportive environment.  Currently, we host Women in Business, Young Professionals, Health & Wellness and Retail Roundtable groups.  All meet regularly and welcome new members.

Affinity groups form organically within the Chamber as members band together around shared concerns.   We are open to sponsoring additional affinity groups (sustainability, minority-owned, hospitality, NGO, etc.) as needs and interest arise.  Everything starts with a good idea and a committed volunteer.

This month, we are excited about the forthcoming panel on coaching hosted by Women in Business.  The Young Professionals are embracing the Pechakucha craze to learn about nonprofits.  Our wellness providers will build their referral networks through a business card exchange.  Retailers are preparing to discuss legal and HR issues unique to their industry.  Businesses serving the home construction and design market are coming together.

Diversity is a core value of our community.  For the Chamber, celebrating diversity means creating a platform where different and disparate business people can make relevant connections, meet peers and continue to learn about an increasingly tailored set of issues.  

Approaching the business community any other way would be a woeful oversimplification of today’s realities.

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Cathy Yen

Cathy Yen is the Executive Director of the Oak Park River Forest Chamber of Commerce.  She has lived in Oak Park for 21 years and done business locally, first as a retailer and then as a small business...