By Cathy Yen
Last Thursday, the Oak Park River Forest Chamber of Commerce and Oak Park's Pleasant District announced a partnership that could change the way small neighborhood business districts are managed. The Pleasant District is located just south of the tracks along Marion Street.
The Chamber will provide back office support including business directory management, email lists and contact information, information dissemination to businesses, accounts receivable and light marketing. The merchants will run local events, coordinate district-wide advertising, oversee the holiday decorations and advocate for local concerns, such as streetscape.
To access the dual benefits of both organizations, businesses pay a single, bundled fee of $350 for annual dues. Businesses will receive Silver Level membership in the Chamber ($300 value) and membership in the Pleasant District ($50 value).
District leadership will control its portion of dues to fund event management, district-specific advertising, holiday lights and anything else the collective chooses to provide the area. Previously, dues also funded the website and online directory. Pleasant District volunteers not only had to pay for the technology, but they input data and maintained the site in their free time. Now, Pleasant District businesses are poised to take further advantage of the Chamber's scalable model and industry-leading software.
The volunteer nature of business district management in Oak Park makes it difficult for our eleven hyper-local merchant associations to sustain themselves over time. Districts can flourish under the leadership of experienced volunteers with time and vision. But, when "life happens" and those same people need to focus on their own businesses or family, volunteerism takes a back seat and the district can lose steam.
The new partnership between the Pleasant District and the Chamber of Commerce will continue reliance on volunteers to lead the district. However, Chamber management of "back office" functions, gives the volunteers time for other priorities. This way, while the inconsistent availability of volunteer resources might still impact the district, the Chamber will maintain the basic functions of communication and online presence.
We are looking forward to a successful partnership, one that may lay the groundwork for collaboration with other local merchant associations.
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