The Princeton Regional Chamber of Commerce celebrates its golden anniversary on Thursday, October 21, from 6 to 9 p.m. with a party at Springdale Golf Course, 1895 Clubhouse Drive. The theme of the event will be early 1960s, including a cash bar and heavy hors d’oeuvres. Cost to attend is $50 per person and for those not wearing a costume, business attire is recommended. Visit www.princetonchamber.org .
Fifty years ago it was a different business climate and a very different chamber. It even had a different name – the Chamber of Commerce of the Princeton Area. Its first executive director, #b#Ellen Hodges#/b#, headed an organization that often gathered its core 20 members together on Saturdays to plant flowers along Nassau Street.
The chamber was then focused on downtown merchants and professionals. It did try to embrace the new reality, with companies putting down roots in South Brunswick, West Windsor, and other nearby towns, and listing Princeton as their business address, but the chamber struggled to meet basic financial obligations.
#b#Kristen Appelget#/b# took over the chamber in 2002 and was credited with building it into a mature nonprofit. #b#Karen Colimore#/b# took the reins in 2006 and according to the chamber, contributed to a growth in membership, status, and money for the chamber by increasing the number of annual events and garnering state grant money for travel and tourism marketing of the Princeton region. #b#Peter Crowley#/b#, the current CEO, came aboard at the end of 2008.
These days the Princeton Chamber has 800 business partners and more than 1,300 members, a growth chamber officers have attributed to the shift in focus from a small-town social club-style chamber to a regional entity more focused on business interaction, outreach, and education.
Crowley says the decision to broaden the organization’s mission allowed it to aim for the growing businesses along the Route 1 Corridor and “serve the needs of the businesses that were expanding and relocating to the east, north, and west of Princeton. We accomplished this expansion maintaining our core Princeton business base.”
The chamber also grew when it moved back to downtown Princeton. It originally had been there, but the offices relocated to Forrestal Village in 1994. In 2005 it moved to 9 Vandeventer Street and established the chamber’s roots as a true Princeton entity.
The chamber introduced the Princeton Regional Convention & Visitors Bureau in 2004 and started to receive destination marketing funds from the state Division of Travel & Tourism in 2008.
An estimated 750,000 people visit the Princeton University campus annually, and the chamber has made no secret of trying to reel those people in and get them to shop, dine, and stay in town. “Tourism continues to grow and our ability to successfully represent the educational institutions, historical assets, cultural and entertainment locations, restaurants, and municipalities in our region has been important to driving our growth,” Crowley says.
The latest paradigm shift for the chamber was to re-brand itself as “Champions for Business.” “We build value for our members by helping them grow their businesses through networking events, educational programming, and other events designed to support the business community now and for the next 50 years,” Crowley says.
What will those next 50 years hold? “We will continue to expand our web presence, increase our social networking focus, continue to implement programs designed to grow membership, and keep striving to be the best business focused Chamber in our region,” Crowley says.