Chamber finds new home at community center

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

The Greater Eureka Springs Chamber of Commerce has made a community-centered move.

Interim director Damon Henke reported last week that the chamber has relocated to the Eureka Springs Community Center at 44 Kingshighway after years of operating in Pine Mountain Village. The chamber had been looking for a new location before rent prices increased at Pine Mountain Village this summer, Henke said, but that was certainly a motivating factor to move quickly.

“Over the years, we’ve shrunk to a staff that fit the level of volume coming into the chamber,” Henke said. “We really needed a location that was slightly smaller, too.”

The new location works perfectly for the chamber’s visitor services, Henke said, because it’s even closer to the transit office. Henke said visitors commonly ask about the open-air trolley tour, saying chamber employees are happy to help with that. It’s important for the chamber to become a hub for visitors and locals, Henke said.

“The community center is the up-and-coming hub of Eureka Springs,” Henke said. “We hope to simply complement that hub and push it forward, not only as a visitor’s center but for the actual business community the chamber serves.”

Henke said locals should look out for chamber events at the community center. He expects to host the popular Chocolate Festival, Henke said, and Yards & Yards of Yard Sales at the chamber’s new location. Henke described how the Eureka Springs Farmers Market benefits the chamber, saying he’s grateful the market takes place right outside the chamber’s front door.

“Not only is that beneficial for the locals to be able to come and get some fresh produce … if you pull into the visitor’s center as a tourist and see there’s a farmers market on the front steps, it just adds to the depth of the community,” Henke said, “and makes your vacation that much more interesting.”

Henke said the chamber has enjoyed working with the community center’s board of directors. It was easy to make the move, he said.

“When we came to the community center and said we might be interested, they said, ‘It’s a perfect fit,’ ” Henke said.

Diane Murphy, chairwoman of the community center’s board of directors, said the board had hoped to attract organizations like the chamber from the very beginning. Murphy said the idea was to have an office park where local businesses could have a central location to the community.

“We’re super thrilled to have our first tenant in the office park,” Murphy said. “It came about unexpectedly, and we are excited to welcome the chamber.”

Murphy said she hopes the chamber’s move indicates a trend, saying the office park is an important tool to help the community center sustain itself. The community center doesn’t receive any tax dollars, Murphy said.

“The whole vision has been for the community center to be a gathering spot. We really wanted to have it be not just a recreational place but something that serves the whole community,” Murphy said. “We are moving forward one space at a time to make office spaces available.”

Henke said the chamber supports what the community center is doing.

“We need a community center,” Henke said. “It’s a fantastic place for fitness, the farmers market and festivals. We look forward to serving as an economic developer for the community center and bringing more businesses here to make it sustainable.”

Moving forward, Henke said, the chamber is excited about the future. Henke said the chamber is getting back to its roots planning the Visitor Guide, saying the chamber will keep the visitor’s center open during the winter. In place of its annual banquet in December, Henke said, the chamber will be hosting a season kickoff event in April.

“Instead of bringing everything to a close with awards ceremonies and basically trailing everything off as if we’re shutting down for the season,” Henke said, “we really want to open next year’s season with announcements of what’s to come.”

The chamber will be waiting to find a full-time director, Henke said, until its finances are sound.

“The next leader we hand the chamber to will have a financially stable chamber with the proper foundation to move forward in Eureka Springs,” Henke said. “We are in a conservative mode to make sure we have the right business services and the right networking opportunities to allow us to rebuild financially for the next year.”

In the meantime, Henke said, he hopes to see the chamber unite local businesses.

“A reason a lot of people join the chamber is they feel they have a civic duty to be part of an organization that’s moving the community forward,” Henke said. “I just want people to think of the chamber not necessarily as what we do for everyone else, but how do we come together and move the town forward?”

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