Program cover from the recent awards banquet at the joint Provision chambers annual celebration.

“If you have seen one chamber, you have seen… one chamber,” goes the industry saying.  Each chamber is unique, molded around the needs, interests and make-up of its particular business community.

Although we share the name “chamber of commerce,” chambers are not affiliated with each other.    Nevertheless, it is a real joy for me to visit other chambers and see how they do things. Sometimes it feels like a parallel universe – both familiar and unfamiliar.  I always learn something and leave with new ideas and perspective.

And so it was following recent visits to the Forest Park Chamber and the Proviso Township Chambers.  The Forest Park Chamber holds its annual meetings at McAdam Landscaping, where restaurants provide a “taste of Forest Park.”  There is a retail-focused silent auction and both businesses and residents are honored with the Village’s Cavalcade of Pride awards.  It is homey, welcoming and casual, like a big block party. Lots of retail and restaurants represented in the crowd.

The four chambers of Proviso Township – Bellwood, Maywood, Broadview and Melrose Park – held their joint scholarship and awards banquet last week at Triton College, hosting over five hundred people.  I was delighted to attend an evening of gravitas, where politicians, school districts, government bureaucrats, faith leaders and business people, all dressed to the nines, gathered together to celebrate making a difference in the community.  A judge presided over the swearing in for new chamber directors and officers. Business owners ranged from independent shopkeepers to light industrial entrepreneurs to financiers.

In Oak Park – River Forest, where our Chamber officers are inducted without fanfare at a meeting (not a party), we tend to be more silo-ed from other parts of the community.  Business people, residents, elected officials, taxing bodies and faith-based organizations collaborate as needed, but through intentional outreach when a topic arises rather than as a matter of course.  Our business members reflect our community, with lots of service businesses, healthcare and real estate augmented by retail and restaurants.

Every community is different, therefore every chamber is different.  Every once in awhile, it is illuminating to see oneself from another’s perspective.  Not good or bad. Just different.

Join the discussion on social media!

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...