By Sue Botos
In 1922, the village of Rocky River was still rural with greenhouses and small farms blanketing what are now neighborhoods south of Detroit Road.
The congregation of St. Christopher Church had celebrated its first Mass in May of that year, and the iconic clock tower at Avalon and Lake roads was 10 years old.
Families gathered at lakeside resorts such as Hahn’s Grove, now the site of the Beach House condominiums, and the storied Sliverthorn Inn had been torn down to make way for the upscale Westlake Hotel.
Prohibition was in place, so all get-togethers were supposedly “dry.”
But Rocky River was starting to transition to a suburban residential area. The establishment of the renowned Cowan Pottery factory and showroom in the city two years earlier brought buyers from all over the world to town.
With all of these changes in mind, a group of businessmen met to discuss the creation of a business association and, as a result, the Rocky River Chamber of Commerce was born.
A celebration was recently held at the Chamber offices, 19543 Center Ridge Road, on March 3, marking the exact date, according to records from the office of the Ohio Secretary of State, the Chamber was incorporated in 1922.
These articles of incorporation, signed by Secretary Harvey Smith, stated the purpose of the Chamber was “promoting and protecting the moral, social, business and civic interests of the Village of Rocky River, Ohio; to acquire, hold and diffuse such information as will best serve that purpose; to provide entertainment for its members; to acquire and own the necessary real estate and personal property for the purpose of carrying into effect the above objects; and to do any other thing or things necessary and incident thereto.”
The group agreed to meet monthly at the Westlake Hotel, after its completion in 1925, and early committees included Membership, Program, Boosters and Traffic. Initiation fee was set at $2.50, and yearly dues were $5.
Although the original 23 Chamber members were all men, that is hardly the case in 2017, according to Executive Director Liz Manning, who has headed the organization since 2008. “Today there are 435 members, but the mission is still the same with different wording,” she said.
According to the historical account “Rocky River Yesterday,” the updated version states, “The Rocky River Chamber of Commerce, an advocate and vital presence in Rocky River, strives to support a network of businesses and civic interests to promote business for its members.”
Information as well as entertainment are still key components for chamber members, who can participate in an assortment of networking events such as Business Before/After Hours, which have been held in diverse venues like Sky Zone, and monthly luncheons, usually at the Westwood Country Club.
Luncheon speakers cover a wide variety of topics, and have included Progressive CMO Jeff Charney, radio personality Larry Morrow and motivational speaker Connie Dieken. Each spring, Mayor Pam Bobst presents the State of the City address and in August, Superintendent Michael Shoaf introduces new district teachers.
The group hosts a golf outing in June, Taste of River/Buy River, in conjunction with River Days in July, the Libations Tour of local taverns in August, October’s Business Expo and a Christmas party. Members are also offered a variety of benefits including discounts on health insurance, workers’ compensation and office supplies.
Benefits are not limited to members, as the Rocky River Chamber of Commerce Education Foundation raises money for various causes and provides an annual scholarship to a graduating high school student plus a student sponsorship for Ohio Business Week and a contribution to Junior Achievement.
The chamber continues to grow, even outside of the city, according to Manning. “Our staff has expanded from one part-time person to one full-time and one part-time. We have also expanded our reach to welcome businesses (people) in other parts of northeast Ohio who may live in Rocky River and work elsewhere or people who do business in Rocky River even though their business is elsewhere,” she said.