Ellicott City association argues whether to join county chamber

Some are worried 26-member group could disappear

Organizations

May 27, 2000|By Stacey Hirsh | Stacey Hirsh,SUN STAFF

Grappling with communication and administrative issues, the Ellicott City Business Association is considering a proposal to join the Howard County Chamber of Commerce.

"An affiliation with them would give us a lot of benefits that the Business Association by itself can't do," said Adon Phillips, owner of Country Crafters in Ellicott City and president of the association.

Merchants say the association has been struggling to rally interest, communicate with members and find administrative support.

With all of its members busy running their own shops, Phillips said, it is difficult to find the time and resources to promote events in the business community or run educational activities, such as are offered by the chamber.

But opponents of the plan fear that the more than 850-member Chamber of Commerce would gobble up the 26-member association. They worry that such a large entity lacks the small-business focus that the association offers, are concerned such an endeavor would be costly and are confused about what an alliance would mean.

"Several people on the board feel like we should clean our own house first and then worry about something like that," said Nancy Gibson, owner of the Forget-me-not Factory in Ellicott City.

Gibson said that, because it deals with big businesses, the chamber has different goals than the association. And while the association faces problems, such as a lack of volunteers, Gibson said, local business owners wonder if it needs such a change or if it simply needs to set some lofty goals.

"Do we really need a big brother to help us out at this point?" said Gibson, who is also on the association's board.

Vickie Goeller, owner of the Phoenix Emporium on Main Street, said she was a member of the association for 20 years but didn't join this year because she didn't receive a renewal notice.

Though Goeller is not entirely opposed to an alliance, she said that if it happens, the town would still need an association representing solely the merchants in it.

"My biggest problem is that it wouldn't focus on the issues that are important on a day-to-day basis to the merchants here in town," she said.

Proponents of the plan, however, said the alliance could boost membership, help the association stay organized and promote events. The association, they said, would be affiliated with the chamber, not absorbed by it. "They're one of the biggest, most powerful, best-organized business organizations in the country," said Richard Taylor, vice president of the association. "Why wouldn't we want to belong to them?"

Kristin Potler, owner of Jahva House, is also in favor of the proposal. Since joining the association about a year ago, Potler has seen little communication and unity among members. "I'm not saying that joining the chamber is going to solve all of the problems," she said, but it could help.

Ken Williams, president and CEO of the chamber, said the alliance would cost the association $425. For that, association members would also become chamber members and would gain organizational management and event promotion from the chamber.

Williams is scheduled to present the proposal and answer questions at the association's June 7 board meeting.

But Gibson said several business owners who already heard about the proposal were shocked by it. And, she added, the association already has a reciprocal membership with the Howard County Tourism Council: Each belongs to the other's organization and each has a member sitting on its board.

"We already have a partner," Gibson said.

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