My block party morphed from the traditional potluck into a paid affair.  For the two plus decades I’ve lived here, we alternated one side of the street bringing appetizers and the other bringing entrees.  I’ll admit it was always a gamble, usually resulting in an overabundance of pasta salads.

Still, I was shaken when the newly arrived Young Turks on the block decided to charge a fee and centralize the planning, buying, grilling and bounce house ordering.  As soon as you put a price on something, you present a value yardstick, calibrated by your personal financial situation. You want how much for me to attend my own block party?!

We’re funny that way – money makes things feel different.  But I admit: the block party was great and there was more grilled protein than we’ve seen in years.  The efficiency we purchased created a lighter mood, less stress, better food and more fun. Totally worth it.

Given my experience with event planning, I should have been more supportive.  Events are tricky. Fundraising is challenging. Volunteer time is scarce. Economies of scale is a thing.  There is real value created when events are centrally planned and professionally managed.

Centralization adds fees and a business-oriented approach that might seem unfriendly at the outset.  The small town, raise-the-barn feel of yesteryear starts to wane as volunteerism declines and professional fees rise, but maybe that’s okay.  Time is money, afterall.

Consumers today demand convenience and experience.  Small, independent businesses demand exposure and marketing.  Larger, corporate-owned businesses demand the opportunity to buy into an event rather than offer volunteers.

We work hard on Chamber events in order to deliver on all three.  We’re excited for this week’s golf outing, which – pending weather – should be terrific.  We believe our team of volunteers aided by professionals has created a well-managed, financially successful event, providing great exposure for businesses and a fun experience for attendees.  

And so, a big thank you to my neighbors who organized my block party, collected the funds and managed the experience.  I grudgingly admit that it was completely worth the fee to not make that tired tortellini salad again and just enjoy the day.

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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...