New Chamber board president eyes membership boost

  • Outgoing president of the Amherst Area Chamber of Commerce’s board Georgia Moore completes the ceremony of the top hat Tuesday in which she presents the hat to the chamber’s new president, Peter Vickery. SUBMITTED PHOTO

Staff Writer
Thursday, January 11, 2018

AMHERST — A new board president for the Amherst Area Chamber of Commerce is confident that the organization can grow its membership by providing improved services and broadening its reach by bringing successful events, such as one modeled after the Taste of Amherst, to neighboring towns.

“We will double our size by putting out a better product,” says Peter Vickery, an Amherst attorney who on Tuesday laid out an ambitious agenda to rejuvenate the chamber at its annual luncheon at the Red Barn at Hampshire College.

In a phone interview before the event, Vickery said the chamber currently has 350 to 400 members, but he believes that membership can grow to 700 by enhancing offerings.

“When we do that, we’ll boost membership,” Vickery said.

He wants to emphasize that the chamber extends beyond Amherst and Hadley, with a renewed focus on Belchertown, along with Leverett, Shutesbury, Sunderland and Pelham.

One idea is taking the successful Taste of Amherst, scheduled for mid-June, and creating the similar Hadley Harvest, what he calls a “road test” for the concept of the Taste.

The chamber hasn’t engaged enough with Belchertown businesspeople, but that could change by creating its own holiday-themed event, similar to the Dickens of a Christmas event in Chestertown, Maryland. A “What the Dickens” event in Belchertown, Vickery said, could showcase local businesses and make it a shopping destination.

Vickery said he would like to make Black History Month in February a springboard for discussions of the business community’s future.

“I’d like to use African-American History Month as a launch pad to engage business owners and policymakers,” Vickery said.

Vickery said the chamber also needs to make sure that college students are treated well.

“We will be absolutely, unequivocally be welcoming to students, and want them to consider making this their permanent home,” Vickery said.

Vickery is also aiming to have stronger connections among members. These person-to-person relationships could come through a program called “Leaders as Readers,” a business-focused reading group which will rotate meeting sites in Amherst, Belchertown and Hadley and in which members will read and discuss business books and articles.

“That will create opportunities to build relations with other owners,” Vickery said.

Vickery praised interim executive director Jerry Guidera, membership director Maureen Raab and events coordinator Deb McCarthy for their work. The chamber has been without a permanent executive director since Tim O’Brien left at the end of July after one year on the job. Vickery said there is no rush to hire a replacement, noting that stability is paramount.

The board members include past president Georgia Moore, Jim Brassord, Nancy Buffone and Carl Weber, representatives of Amherst College, the University of Massachusetts and Hampshire College, respectively, secretary Lindsey Matarrazo, owner of Russell’s Liquors, treasurer Sean Cleary of Amherst Copy and Design Works, G. Christopher Blauvelt, COO and CFO of Innovara in Hadley, Heidi Flanders, owner and principle designer at Integrity Development, Aaron Jolly, owner of The Pub, Abby Stern at DeMaio Orthodontics, Amherst developer Barry Roberts, Tiffany Raines at PeoplesBank, Gabriel Owens, owner of GO Tech, Robin Brown of the Lord Jeffery Inn, and newcomers Nat Davis of TD Bank, Brian Giggey of Soundscape Merchandise and Michelle Tomlinson of the Chopping Block.

Scott Merzbach can be reached at smerzbach@gazettenet.com