In a gathering that was one part celebration and one part farewell, members of the local business community, Town officials and friends came together last Thursday one last time to toast the Watertown-Belmont Chamber of Commerce as the group is about to close for business.
The event at the Oakley Country Club was a membership appreciation event, and also looked toward the future for the business community in the area.
“Want to really say thank you to all the people in this room for what you have done for the Chamber of Commerce for the past few decades,” said Bob Airasian, co-president of the Chamber Board of Directors. “All the hours you have put in, all the resources you have committed – we appreciate it so much, it is hard to put into words.”
Airasian also thanked the other WBCC co-president, Mike Albano, who has been president or co-president for the past six years.
“Mike’s done about 30 years of work in 6 years,” Airasian said. “This day would have come a lot sooner if not for Mike. Mike does the work of three people.”
The chamber is almost 50 years old, but has struggled in recent years to sustain itself.
“We’ve had a really good run, but I think we have a changing business environment,” Airasian said. “We’ve talked about this ad nauseam with the board. We had a few options but this is what unanimously was felt was the best option.”
The leadership of the Chamber will be trying to work out a way to make sure the business community in Watertown and Belmont has a voice, Airasian said. However, he encouraged members to look at joining one of the surrounding chambers. Representatives from the Newton Needham Regional Chamber and the Waltham Chamber of Commerce were on hand Thursday.
Greg Reibman, president of the Newton Needham Chamber said the leadership of the Watertown-Belmont Chamber deserve credit for their work.
“These guys have been amazing. You are so lucky to have them,” Reibman said. “I know this is a bittersweet moment for you. You deserve so much credit for what you have done for your business communities for the last, almost 50 years.”
Reibman said while people need to figure out what is best for them, he believes regional chambers can fill the roll of bringing together people to network, share ideas and bring in customers. Also, by representing multiple communities, a regional chamber can have a stronger voice.
“You know when you want to knock on the door of the state, or the MBTA, it is so much better to say we represent four communities than we represent one community,” Reibman said. “We really think that the role of a regional chamber is to bring all that together.”
Last year, the Newton Needham Chamber hosted 800 events, Reibman said, and in the future he plans to have events in Watertown and Belmont.
The Newton Needham Chamber offered members of the Watertown-Belmont Chamber membership this year for half the price of the dues they were paying at the WBCC.
Waltham has a similar offer, said John Peacock, executive director of the Waltham Chamber. He added that he believes it is important for small businesses to work together.
“I think chambers are important to be a member of for small businesses, whether you join our chamber, or join Greg’s chamber or go to Cambridge,” Peacock said. “I would encourage all of you to join one of the chamber in the area. We are all strong with regards to networking.”
The WBCC will be in touch with members through its email list. Paul Airasian, who has served as interim executive director and now as a liaison for the Chamber, said he is available to help.
“If you have any questions use me, I’m here,” he said.