Lindsay finds new markets for chamber of commerce

Lindsay Chamber of Commerce works to reinvent itself after the loss of the Friday Night Market in March

By Reggie Ellis @Reggie_SGN

LINDSAY – When the Lindsay City Council voted in March to take away the Friday Night Market from the Lindsay Chamber Commerce and give it to an outside organization, councilmembers implied the city didn’t need a chamber and city staff intimated there wasn’t enough business to justify it.

That wasn’t an answer Virginia Loya could accept. That’s because Loya, and the chamber, have been through this before.

Loya became involved in the Lindsay Chamber of Commerce in 2004 when she headed up the events committee and handled the legwork on setting up the market. She took on more of a leadership role later that year when Carolyn Callison, who had been executive director for seven years, took a medical leave and was unable to come back to work. That year Loya watched the chamber lose funding from the city, lose its bookkeeper, watched as its board turned over, all while trying to get a massive new project off the ground in the Friday Night Market.

The business-minded body was able to partner with local shop owners, city staff, and its own board members to eek out a $500 profit a year after seeing its budget cut by 60%. Loya split her time between running her own business and running the Friday Night Market for three years. After watching the ups and downs of two executive directors in four years, Loya finally agreed to take on all of the leadership duties at the chamber. She built it from bankruptcy to boon running an organization that was generating around $1 million per year.

Now, 15 years later, Loya finds herself in a similar position. This year’s cut from losing the market was more severe, like 35% more, but Loya remains optimistic about the chamber’s chances.

“We still get calls all the time for available store space, directions, and networking,” Loya said. “We do a lot of referrals.”

Since losing the market in March, the chamber has had to reinvent itself and Loya is again leading the charge. After closing its offices at the Sierra Vista Plaza on Honolulu Street, Chamber President Robin Perna said Loya allowed the chamber to move into an office space in back of her salon. Loya also donated her time and electricity to the chamber as she and bookkeeper Sharon Dimmit are both unpaid volunteers to eliminate the cost of salaries. The chamber only has a few expenses left including a copier, phone and internet services, and insurance, which totals about $600 per month.

“Virginia is donating her time, her business, and some of her own money for the events,” Perna said. “Lots of us, including myself, are donating our time and money to keep it going.”

In order to restore some of its lost revenue, the chamber is focusing on what it does best – hold events. The chamber’s fund-raising efforts began in September with the Boulevard Nights Car Show on Honolulu Street. Loya said attendance and interest were good and the event made more money than it cost. Next up for the chamber is its 6th annual Pozole and Menudo Cook Off on Saturday, Oct. 12 on Honolulu Street. The event will coincide with the Lows, Rats & Rods Car Show. For information on the cook off, call the chamber at 559-562-4929. Later this month, the chamber will partner with the Foothill Rotary to hold the town’s first Seafood Boil event on Oct. 26. Tickets are $35 and it will be held from 5-9 p.m. and will be held at Loya’s house, 1121 Maple St. in Lindsay. The chamber will also continue many of its annual events including its Angel Tree gift event for seniors, a booth at the community Christmas celebration at City Hall and its biggest event, the community awards banquet in January.

“We’re working on activities each month to support the chamber and its mission of supporting businesses,” Perna said.

In addition to events, the chamber has updated its website, including a new forum for businesses to share ideas in Lindsay and an up-to-date community calendar of events, maintained its bulk mail permit and services, and offer printing, copies and faxing services for businesses without a copier.

“We are really focusing on changing what we do rather than focusing on what we’ve lost,” Perna said.

The economy seems to be helping the business climate in Lindsay as well. There have been talks of Dollar General resurfacing, which could significantly boost the city’s tax base, and the chamber held ribbon cuttings for two new members in July. The Lindsay Church of God opened its new thrift store Finders Keepers at 370 Valencia St. and a new insurance company, Academy West, opened at 395 W. Hermosa St. Going forward, Loya said membership will be a more significant source of revenue for the chamber.

Membership is based on the size of the company. Owner operators with less than three employees pay $50 per year, those with less than 10 pay $100, businesses with 11-30 employees pay $250 per year, 31-50 pay $350 and companies with 50 or more employees pay $500 per year. Checks can be made payable to the Lindsay Chamber of Commerce, 275 N. Elmwood Ave., Lindsay, CA 93247.

“Our goal has always been to bring people to town to shop here,” Loya said. “Without the market, we are trying to do that in different ways.”

Exeter and Lindsay were the only two small cities in Tulare County that had chambers with paid staff. Woodlake has always maintained an all-volunteer chamber and Farmersville has been unable to sustain a chamber at all. Loya said that was the case made against keeping the chamber in Lindsay, but she says the role of the chamber will only be more important as the city grows. Just this year, Lindsay’s population increased 2.27%, nearly five times the rate of the state, putting the city 40th on the list if cities with the greatest percentage of growth. Only nine cities in the entire valley had growth that outpaced Lindsay.

“The city said maybe we should close down the chamber after we lost the market, but how can we do that?,” Loya said. “We want to keep it open. It means something to have a chamber and a business community.”

The chamber isn’t completely out of the market for markets either. Perna said they have had some early interest in an outdoor market they started at a newly tilled field at the corner of Avenue 196 and Highway 65 in Strathmore. She said they lost money for the first few weeks, but hope that a move to a new location, 195757 Orange Belt Dr. will be provide more opportunity. The Strathmore Plazita is held from 6-10 p.m. on Sundays. For more information, call Loya at 559-333-1994.

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