Some business leaders think a super-regional Lehigh Valley Chamber is the wrong fit for a small town such as Nazareth.
When Donna Rossini attended luncheons held by the Greater Lehigh Valley Chamber of Commerce (GLVCC), she says she felt like “nothing more than a face in a sea of other faces.”
“No one knew who anyone else was,” added the owner of in Forks Township. “It wasn’t like that at Two Rivers Area Chamber of Commerce.”
Rossini experienced firsthand a merge between an independent chamber and the GLVCC -- something the GLVCC has been asking the to do for the last 10 years, according to Frank Facchiano, the GLVCC’s executive vice president of member relations and operations.
the Greater Lehigh Valley Chamber's plans to open an office in Nazareth.
Rossini was a member of Two Rivers Area Chamber of Commerce / Easton Area Chamber of Commerce before it became an affiliate with the GLVCC.
She wasn’t happy with the move.
According to Rossini, all of the boards and committees previously set up by the once independent chamber were dismantled “and we were disbanded.”
“They told us, ‘Well, you can come up here any time you want and come to any of our meetings.’ But you just couldn’t go with a drop of a hat without your business suffering. So, when you couldn’t do it, you were out,” Rossini recalled, adding that "[the GLVCC wasn't] interested in anything we had to say."
Rossini said her experience as a member of the GLVCC “was just totally, totally different. GLVCC did not honor any of their commitments.”
And that experience is why Rossini allowed her name and a quote to be included in a letter -- titled “The Nazareth Area Chamber of Commerce is Independent” -- sent to members of the Nazareth Chamber in March.
The letter was written by Daniel Thierry, the chamber’s chairman and a mortgage adviser with . Thierry went into detail about why the Nazareth Chamber has been resistant to losing its independence, saying, among other things, it would become a “footnote” to the larger communities in the Lehigh Valley.
But with the GLVCC currently in negotiations to open a satellite office in Nazareth -- at the corner of S. Main Street where Ollie’s Travel Desk was once housed -- Nazareth’s chamber is again feeling the pressure to merge with the GLVCC.
The GLVCC's Frank Facchiano, on one hand, believes the regional chamber can offer “a much broader amount of products and services and resources for [the Nazareth] community.”
“I disagree,” Thierry said. “And that [statement] is really at the heart of this issue. The Nazareth Chamber has been here since the 1930s and has done a lot for the surrounding communities for all of those decades. It is a very effective and wonderful chamber.”
Thierry, and his counterparts, are anxious to understand the GLVCC’s intentions.
“They have no presence in this community,” he said. “I don’t see how they can serve this community better. I’m curious to see what their intentions are. It appears to be beneficiary to them. If that’s what they’re about, that’s fine. But [the Nazareth Chamber] is about community.”
Frank DeRosa, ex-officio of the Nazareth Chamber, echoed Thierry’s thoughts.
“It almost seems to me -- and I can’t say what [the GLVCC’s] goal really is -- it all just seems to be a numbers game,” he said. “It’s not the quality, it’s the quantity.”
According to Tina Smith, president of the Nazareth Chamber, it is the chamber’s membership as a whole that decides if a merger happens or not.
“We’re not unwilling to work with [the GLVCC],” Smith said. “We’ve co-hosted ribbon-cutting ceremonies with them before, we’ve worked a networking mixer before -- our membership just doesn’t want [to merge] because we are different.”
That difference is what has kept Rossini around for about four years now.
“When you’re in a smaller chamber you have so much more at your fingertips,” Rossini said. “You don’t even know who to contact at a bigger chamber. The atmosphere is just so much different at a smaller chamber.”
According to Rossini, luncheons at the Nazareth Chamber are now filled with networking opportunities -- and friends.
“When you go to the luncheons, you know who everyone is,” she said. “You can be a brand new member, but you’ll leave feeling like you’ve known these people forever.”
And that personalization -- along with the annual ceremony, , the annual July 4th and other events -- is why Thierry hopes members of the Nazareth Area Chamber of Commerce will continue to vote “no” to merging with the GLVCC.