Chamber of Commerce History
Chamber of Commerce Logo Throughout the Years
This logo was created in 1925 to represent the Westerly Chamber of Commerce formerly, the Westerly Board of Trade.
In 1956 the Greater Westerly-Pawcatuck Area Chamber of Commerce (GWPACC) was incorporated and a new logo was created to reflect the name change.
On September 24, 2015 the Board of Directors voted unanimously to change the name of the organization to “Ocean Community Chamber of Commerce” to better represent the geographic area served, be more inclusive, and to have a less cumbersome name. A new logo was also created to be cleaner, bold and convey a shoreline theme while also incorporating the wave as a nod to the former logo.
HISTORICAL EVOLUTION 1700 – Present
The following account of the historical evolution and major highlights of The Greater Westerly-Pawcatuck Area Chamber of Commerce during the time period of 1700 – Present has been compiled from newspaper articles and other published reference materials. This timeline is limited to a subjective synopsis of key events. The origins of what became the Westerly Chamber of Commerce were originally born from activities of the Westerly Board of Trade. Boards of Trade originated in Europe and formed in Colonial times in the Americas for similar function. A Board of Trade had a regulatory function whereas a Chamber of Commerce is non-regulatory. For this reason, the official start of a Westerly Chamber of Commerce was in 1956, despite some similar functions and common individuals who were involved in the evolution to an independent 501c6 business organization. Documents verifying the following events and original minutes of chamber meetings from 1956 are safeguarded and preserved for historical purposes.
Westerly Board of Trade (WBT)
- 1708 at the behest of the RI General Assembly, WBT reported the Census (RI Genealogy Society)
- 1892 for an unspecified number of years, Chapman Pendleton was Town of Westerly Treasurer, and President of the WBT simultaneously. Westerly Town governance and WBT intertwined. Pendleton was President of the Westerly Chapter of the American Historical Society (Pendleton Biographies).
- 1908 WBT held a large meeting at Westerly Town Hall on March 19, 1908 “to perfect the organization of the Westerly Board of Trade.” A new Constitution and Bylaws were adopted, election of new officers took place. It was a redefinition of the purpose of the Westerly Board of Trade. The meeting was reported in a Westerly Sun Article 3-20-1908 “Board of Trade: Westerly Has Promising Organization in Its Business Men.“ This was not the first meeting (as the article references prior meetings). The last line of that article: “The meeting adjourned after which several committees met to discuss plans for the work of the Board (of Trade). At that time the admissions fee (now referred to as “registration fee or joining fee”) was $3 and the yearly dues was $2 “payable in advance.”
- 1909 WBT partnered with Boards of Trade in VA, VT, MA and the Merchants Association of NY “Railroad Between East & West” (Worcester Magazine).
- 1904 Charles Perry was President of WBT (New England Families Genealogy)
- 1911 WBT “evidence taken” in Interstate Commerce Commission setting railroad fares – advances in rates by carriers
- 1913 WBT registered 200 members with the Congressional Serial Set (registry) and set its annual meeting dates as February
- 1922 RI General Assembly Resolution: Providing for Use of State Armory in Westerly by WBT with usage fee arrangement.
- 1925 WBT discussed a merger with the (RI and CT) Shore Development association, a change in its Bylaws and changing of the name to Westerly Chamber of Commerce. The discussion was tabled in lieu of a formal meetingWesterly Sun Article “Westerly Board of Trade to merge with RI & CT Shoreline Development Association,” dated 1-2-1925.
- 1925 Harvey C. Perry made a lengthy statement of new policies for WBT and advocating for a change to Westerly Chamber of Commerce. The merger resolution 2-2-1925, renamed the Westerly Chamber. This Board vote was the defining moment of the evolution of first named “Westerly Chamber.”
- 1925 WBT at its annual meeting February 2, 1925, WBT amended its Bylaws to change its name to Westerly Chamber of Commerce
WESTERY CHAMBER OF COMMERCE (WCC)
- 1925 WCC formerly WBT named Executive and other Committees
- 1925 WCC voted “to take over the Rhode Island Shore Development association, making the members of this association a committee to promote the advertising and development of shore resorts in Washington and New London Counties.” (RI and CT) “The merger was effected by passage of this resolution.” “This committee shall be known as the Rhode Island and Connecticut shore development committee of the Westerly Chamber of Commerce.” Committee members were appointed.
- 1925 WCC met to discuss and outline the Shore Resort Campaign “to take the place of the former extensive advertising done by Watch Hill hotels” “1. Raising a fund of $5,000 2. Advertising in newspapers and folders 3. Handling inquiries and communication 4. Publication of news stories”
- 1925 WCC/Shore Development Committee “Will Work For New Fireproof Hotel At Watch Hill Resort”
- 1925 WCC hosted J. Paul Foster, Manager of the New England Bureau of the Boston Chamber of Commerce for an address on Chambers of Commerce and faith in community, followed by a regular business meeting of WCC. Harvey C. Perry outlined a discussion on street design (as a member of the highway commission), and Westerly garage and Opera House, as well as numerous other WCC projects.
- 1926 WCC held a meeting with over 300 people with talks given by tax assessors in New Britain CT, Westerly and RI Board of Tax Commissioners. It was stated that WCC “was a public institution and not a private co-operation and it worked for the best interests of the town as a whole, not trying to foster something on the town that some might think was for the Chamber of Commerce’s own good.” A lengthy discussion of tax problems followed.
- 1936 WCC Authored/Published a book “Old Westerly, Rhode Island. New Constitution the Towns of Charlestown, Hopkinton, Richmond and Westerly. Rhode Island's Jubilee Year 1636-1936. Three Hundredth Anniversary of the Founding of Rhode Island 1636-1936 Paperback.
- 1938 WCC This Westerly Sun news article indicates that the Chamber leaders at the time, and the media, may have considered this meeting to be The Chamber’s 30th anniversary even though it was only named “Westerly Chamber ” in 1925. Quotes include: “Organization of Chamber Of Commerce 30 Years Ago Recalled” In a meeting, “no special anniversary was planned.” “Of course, 30 years ago the new organization took on the name of the Board of Trade. It was changed to the Chamber of Commerce a decade ago.” This meeting was held at the Elm Tree Inn in Pawcatuck.
- 1938-1956 Hundreds of newspaper articles document that The Westerly Chamber of Commerce was active in town economic development, community affairs and special events.
THE GREATER WESTERY-PAWCATUCK AREA CHAMBER OF COMMERCE (GWPACC)
- 1956 The Greater Westerly-Pawcatuck Area Chamber of Commerce was incorporated in the State of Rhode Island on July 18, 1956. The Chamber rented office space at 155 Main Street in downtown Westerly and later moved to an office in Merchant Square on Beach Street, a main route to the beaches.
- The GWPACC ran the Credit Bureau of the Westerly Pawcatuck Area.
- July 19, 1956, John “Jack” Conway was contracted by the Board to serve for 2 years as Executive Vice President at a salary of $8,500 a year and he became 50% shareholder of the Credit Bureau of the Westerly-Pawcatuck Area, together with The Chamber that held the other 50%. A full time secretary was also employed by The Chamber.
- October 1957, Warren Greenwood was hired as Executive Vice President.
- The Chamber regained 100% of the shares of the Credit Bureau of the Westerly-Pawcatuck Area
- 1957 The first annual meeting was held at the Greenhaven Inn.
- May, 1959 Warren Greenwood resigned
- Hubbard Phelps was hired as Executive Vice President effective May 3, 1959.
- 1960s The GWPACC erected a billboard at 61 Main Street, Westerly and used it as a community billboard and commercial advertising vehicle for its members.
- July 1963 Beatrice Smith became the first female serving on the Board of Directors, representing Bea Smith’s a woman's retail store.
- 1970s & 1980s The organization operated under the name “Westerly-Pawcatuck Area Chamber of Commerce” and later conducted business as the “Greater Westerly-Pawcatuck-Charlestown Area Chamber of Commerce”, although the name was never formally changed. The Charlestown Chamber of Commerce was incorporated at the RI Secretary of State in 1980.
- November 1978, To raise capital, The Chamber sold the 61 Main Street billboard structure to WERI radio station.
- 1983 Brochures produced show that The Chamber still used the name “Greater Westerly-Pawcatuck-Charlestown Area Chamber of Commerce”. At some point in time, GWPACC ceased including the word “Charlestown” as part of its name. Publications show The Chamber was inconsistent with using the words “The” and “area” in its name over many years.
- Diane Howard was hired part-time as the Secretary (sole employee at the time) until she passed away unexpectedly in 1985. Her employment is confirmed 1980-1985 but she may have started earlier.
- During the 1980’s and 90’s, The Chamber also operated an annex out of a trailer on Airport Road, assisting tourists with information.
- 1985, Joan Rushlow was hired as the first full time, professional Executive Director.
- 1990, Phyllis Beale was elected the first female President of the GWPACC.
- 1991, September 18, 1991 The State of RI granted a quit claim deed to the Town of Westerly for the Post Road parcel.
- 1992 The Town of Westerly entered into a lease with the GWPACC for the use of the Post Road Picnic Grove Property at 74 Post Road.
- 1992-3 The Chamber rallied community support in the form of donations of funds and services, allowing the organization to build a permanent office on land owned by the State of RI, leased to the Town of Westerly for 100 years. The land is leased from the Town at $1 per year.
- 1994 The Chamber completed construction of a state of the art facility at 74 Post Road in Westerly.
- October 15, 1996- Joan Rushlow retired as Executive Director. At the time, The Greater Westerly-Pawcatuck Area Chamber of Commerce had approximately 400 members.
- October 15, 1996 Lisa B. Konicki began tenure as Executive Director.
- October, 1996 GWPACC secured 2 tractor trailers of gallons of water that were distributed free to residents, during a Town water contamination crisis
- May, 1997 The Chamber held an historic membership drive that netted 153 new members in 3 days. The increase represented a dramatic 40% increase in the size of the organization and dramatically improved the annual budget.
- August 12, 1997 Articles of incorporation were filed with the RI Secretary of State for a new charitable arm of The Chamber, “The Greater Westerly Chamber Foundation”
- March 20, 1998 the “Greater Westerly Chamber Foundation” was granted IRS status as a non-profit 501c3.
- October 1998 The Chamber’s gift certificate program was established. Sales that first year were $53,000.
- 1998 The GWCF held the 1st Pawcatuck River Duck Race rubber duck race involving 20,000 rubber ducks, 45 non-profit partners. It net more than $50,000 for the partners and over $45,000 profit for the GWCF.
- August 1999 After numerous appeals, WERI donated the 61 Main Street billboard back to the GWPACC.
- 2002 The Chamber successfully petitioned the Town to have its address changed from 74 Post Road to “One Chamber Way”.
- September 2003 The Chamber entered into an agreement to expand its present building at One Chamber Way. A capital campaign was launched and co-chaired Patricia and Steven Hartford. The community responded generously, donating over $110,000, in 6 weeks, towards the project.
- 2004 The building expansion took place, increasing the facility from 1,500 square feet to 3,596 square feet, which included a larger conference room, 3 additional offices, an additional bathroom, a volunteer room and an angled driveway to the expanded basement.
- 2007 a 24 hour “brochure breezeway” was constructed next to the outdoor restrooms to serve the needs of visitors who stop at the office after hours.
- 2010 The GWCF purchased and installed 6 wayfinding signs in historic downtown Westerly-Pawcatuck, at $3,000 each
- March 30, 2010, an epic flood deemed the “500 year flood” hit Westerly-Pawcatuck and the Pawcatuck River surged more than 8 feet. Most of Industrial Drive and Canal Street were under water. Many businesses were hit hard and displaced some were forced closed 3 day - 3 weeks. The Chamber raised $73,000 and distributed it as grant money to the affected businesses.
- 2010 The Westerly Land Trust required the billboard be removed for development of an ice rink. The Chamber secured the support of the Town Manager, Town Council and attorney Tom Liguori to create an ordinance allowing it to move the billboard across the street onto town property at 5 Union Street.
- 2012 The GWCF purchased and installed 2 bicycle racks in downtown Westerly
- 2012 The GWPACC, Charlestown Chamber of Commerce, Narragansett Chamber of Commerce and North Kingstown Chamber of Commerce legally challenged the South Kingstown Chamber of Commerce in its attempt to change its name to “The Southern RI Chamber of Commerce” on the basis there are 7 southern RI Chambers and this was misleading and would cause consumer confusion. The collaborative challenge failed to meet the standard of proof in court. The SK Chamber continued with its name change despite causing significantly strained relationships.
- October 29, 2012, Westerly, RI was the epicenter of superstorm Sandy. The GWPACC and GWCF responded immediately by launching a “Bring Back the Beach Campaign.” Efforts included recruiting and scheduling volunteers to assist in clean up, securing free meals and delivering them to businesses and volunteers, securing donated cleaning supplies, work gloves and water, serving as the primary source of business information and housing satellite offices of the RIEDC and FEMA at our office. Most notably, The Chamber Foundation executed numerous fundraisers over a 6 month period that raised $430,000 and distributed 100% of the proceeds as grants to 29 businesses to help with expenses not covered by insurance.
- 2013, The Chamber competed in a national contest sponsored by Benjamin Moore, entitled “Main Street Matters”. We competed against more than 800 cities and towns in an internet voting campaign and were one of the 20 winning towns that benefited from a free paint overhaul of downtown. In total, 22 commercial buildings were painted entirely free, using a historic color palette selected to enhance our beautiful architecture.
- September 24, 2015 the Board of Directors voted unanimously to change the name of the organization to “Ocean Community Chamber of Commerce” to better represent the geographic area served, be more inclusive, and for the name to be less cumbersome. A new logo was also created to be cleaner, bold and convey a shoreline theme while also incorporating the wave as a nod to the former logo. The Board also voted unanimously to change the title of Board leaders to "Chairman of the Board" and the top executive staff title changed from Executive Director to President.
OCEAN COMMUNITY CHAMBER OF COMMERCE
February 2015 The Ocean Community Chamber Foundation was the recipient of proceeds from the Ocean House “Black and White Ball”. Over $73,000 was raised to support our programs as a result of this 500 person, sold-out event.
2015 The Chamber was successful in securing a $150,000 workforce development grant from the State of Rhode Island to create its first ever training program for adults and Biz Camp for students at Westerly High School. This was a highly competitive grant process and a source of great pride for the organization and the other non-profit groups that partnered on the collaboration. The grant was renewed each 6 months for several years based on our performance outcomes.
- October 17, 2015 The Chamber held a glamorous 90th anniversary party under a tent in the parking lot at 56 Main Street to celebrate its 90th anniversary. Over 250 people attended. News of the name change and logo change was met with widespread favorable response. A ten foot, 3 tier wooden cake with 90 sponsored candles was a centerpiece of the event.
May 2016 The Ocean Community Chamber Foundation was named the beneficiary of the Valenti Subaru “Share the Love” campaign where we received $250 for each car sold during a specified period. In total, a check for over $23,000 was received.
June 2016 A $15,000 grant was secured from the Rhode Island Foundation which allowed The Chamber of Commerce to create a “parcel of pride” picnic area including 5 picnic tables (1 handicapped accessible), and 20 hydrangeas.
November 14, 2017 Competing interests between some local residents and the Rhode Island Airport Corporation led to eminent domain action, law suits and numerous contentious meetings at town hall. The airport runways were temporarily displaced and some residents called for the airport to close entirely. The Chamber of Commerce was integrally involved in advocating for the 10 businesses that operate out of the facility and stressed the importance of the airport as an economic asset in the region. In one of the most dramatic and effective presentations in chamber history, President Lisa Konicki used a giant, colorful Truth-O-Meter (with a spinning airplane prop) to inform the council of the many facts in the matter and to debunk several incorrect statements made by airport opponents. The Chamber’s involvement helped lead to 2 key council votes that will support the future of the airport.
2017 the OCCC presented the idea of an artistic, iconic gateway structure at the bridge where CT/RI meet. A contest was held and creative architectural designs from 3 states were submitted. A committee of over 20 community members selected 3 winners and began refining the top design.
January 2018 A Capital Campaign, co-chaired by Ed Smith of Chariho Furniture and Bruce Morrow, Chairman of the Board, of Valenti Subaru was launched with a goal of raising $75,000 by the end of the fiscal year to pay off the Chamber’s mortgage. The gentlemen each pledged $2,500 to get the campaign started.
March 2018 – Joseph Cugini and George Ruthier, the 2 surviving members of a committee that celebrated the Town of Westerly’s 300 anniversary, turned over $53,000 in funds that remained in an account from that effort. The monies have accrued interest over time and were donated to the Ocean Community Chamber Foundation for the exclusive use of producing town celebrations such as a 350th anniversary event. A special committee of community members was established to create a year long celebration in 2019.
May 5, 2018 As part of a fun and very creative initiative to help raise funds for the Capital Campaign, 31 Chamber Board members, staff, volunteers and community leaders took place in a zipline fundraiser off the 32nd story of Foxwoods Resort Casino. Each zipline volunteer secured pledges from friends and family members who sponsored them to participate in the 60mph experience. In total, over $31,000 was raised that day!
June 18, 2018 The Chamber of Commerce exceeded its fundraising goal and raised $84,000 towards the Capital Campaign. This historic effort allowed us to make the last payment on the mortgage, eliminating the $75,000 debt on the building at 1 Chamber Way. The excess funds were used to buy new carpets and paint the interior of the building.
November 5, 2018 The Westerly Town Council voted unanimously to allow the OCCC to build a backside to its billboard on Town property at 5 Union Street.
2019 The Ocean Community Chamber Foundation (staffed and led by OCCC) led a community wide, year-long effort to recognize the Town of Westerly’s 350th Anniversary year. Committee meetings were held monthly at our office and numerous large scale events were executed to celebrate the milestone including a Jan. 1 bell ringing on the steps of town hall, an Olde Tyme Fair in Wilcox Park, Time Capsule Reveal and new capsule burial, two back-to-back, sold out black tie events at the Westerly Armory, a Light Parade. The Westerly 350 Committee produced a program, limited edition pins, puzzles and towels, while the OCCF produced commemorative ornaments and the Pop Up Book of Westerly.
2020 Covid-19 was a worldwide pandemic that brought the economy to its knees through government forced business shutdowns. The Chamber created a “Community Strong” campaign and used the OCCF to sell shirts and collect donations for business grants. We created the Ocean Community One Fund and over $23,000 was given as grants to small businesses and over $6,700 was given to employees of small business affected by the shutdowns. The Chamber itself lost over $90,000 income from cancelled Spring fundraisers including the Duck Race, Virtu Art Show, Fusion and the Great Escape Auction. The organization as forced to lay off 2 of its 4 employees and cease its workforce development/training programs due to indoor restrictions on gatherings. Despite the reduced staff size, the Chamber launched innovative Facebook Live shopping programs that generated thousands of dollars in sales for retailers and provided them with income to sustain their operations. While other Chambers in the region closed their office and some employees worked remotely, we expanded our hours and worked 7 days a week for months as “essential” workers. We increased gift certificate sales to support local stores by over 60% for the year. We wrote grants and secured funds to provide free tents, heat lamps, igloo tents, heated seats and more to support small business outdoor operations. We distributed thousands of free face masks, hundreds of gallons of free disinfectant and our property became a National Guard checkpoint to reduce out-of-state travel through RI. The OCCF persevered as well, producing the Pop Up Book of Stonington and raising thousands for local charities through its proceeds.