Local chamber of commerce closes its doors

  • Written by Dermot Connolly

A lack of participation by members led to the Chicago Ridge-Worth Chamber of Commerce quietly closing its doors at the end of December.

The board of directors of the chamber, which was restarted in 2013 after a previous closure, notified members in a brief email sent on Dec. 27, that “after careful consideration,” the decision was made that the chamber could not remain open after Dec. 31.

“This decision was difficult for the board, but with declining membership and little participation, we felt we can no longer remain viable. For those members who sent membership money in for 2018, we will be returning your dues by mail in the next few weeks. The remaining funds held by the Chamber of Commerce will be donated to local nonprofit organizations, split evenly between both villages,” they said in the letter.

“We thank everyone for your support over the years, and we wish your businesses well in the years to come,” it concluded.

Bill Ritter, the owner of Metal Masters CARSTAR, a body shop at 10235 S. Ridgeland Ave. in Chicago Ridge, was the president. He and Worth Village Clerk Bonnie Price, were among the leaders who got the chamber restarted in 2013, after five years of inactivity.

“I was the president because the past president just walked off about a year ago,” said Ritter on Tuesday.

“The chamber was going for quite a long time. Then a bunch of businesses left about the same time. That is why it closed the first time,” he said.

“But in 2013, we thought we had enough people interested to start again. We had about 145 businesses at its height, but it was down to 90 in the last couple of years,” said Ritter.

“We had no problem getting members to sponsor things, but we couldn’t get enough people to attend events that we were hosting,” said Ritter.

He said the chamber had trouble even getting members to come to the grand opening of Miller’s Ale House in Chicago Ridge Mall about a year ago.

“You couldn’t even get people to come for the free food,” he said.

“The annual mayoral state of the village luncheon we hosted used to be very popular too. But last year, we only had about half of what we used to get,” he said of the event, which was usually held at Jenny’s Steakhouse.

The chamber used to hold a lot of community benefits, collecting books, coats and other items to help both communities.

“For whatever reason, I don’t think anyone wanted to get involved. And you can’t do anything without participation,” said Ritter.

““I really wasn’t surprised to see it close,” said Chicago Ridge Mayor Chuck Tokar.

“The board seemed to be trying very hard. I went to several of the breakfast and dinner meetings they had, but attendance was poor. A lot of people don’t mind being members, but they just don’t want to participate.”

Tokar noted that the chamber only attracted the small, family-owned businesses in Chicago Ridge and Worth, but very few of the stores in Chicago Ridge Mall.

“Most of the stores in the mall are national chains, and they don’t usually join the chambers of every community they are in.”

“It was kind of sad to see the chamber close. But there is not much we could do about it,” said the mayor.