By NANETTE LoBIONDO GALLOWAY
VENTNOR — About 40 local business owners attended a meet and greet happy hour at Santucci’s Original Square Pizza Restaurant on Wednesday, November 17. As traders mingled, many admitted they didn’t know each other, especially as there are five separate business districts in the resort town.
The meet and greet follows an initial breakfast to discuss whether traders should form a new trade association following the demise of the old Ventnor Business Association. There have been several iterations of business groups over the years, but not all have managed to become a cohesive group with the resources to support businesses in the city.
The effort is led by art gallery owner Brenda Dowd of Makt Arts, who is celebrating her third year at Ventnor. After hearing from city and chamber of commerce officials, Dowd asked those gathered to split into groups based on their business district so the merchants could get to know each other.
“Anything you need, let us know,” Commissioner Lance Landgraf told the group. “It’s something we think we need here.”
Landgraf said the city is ready to support business owners. Limited funding may be available to support the group.
“The ground floor has already started here in Ventnor and the energy is building,” Commissioner Tim Kriebel said, encouraging business owners to express their community pride by sprucing up their facades or storefronts.
He said the city would promote local businesses on its website mailing list, which has about 12,000 subscribers.
Michael Chait, president of the Greater Atlantic City Chamber of Commerce, which has 400 members, attended the meeting to encourage the group to consider joining the chamber as a subgroup.
Chait said the chamber is made up of business owners from across Atlantic County, not just Atlantic City, and several municipalities have their own subgroups for their local members. However, being part of a larger organization can provide benefits, he said.
“What we bring to the table is accessibility, resources, and the ability to get grants,” he said.
Because the chamber is made up of large and small businesses, it can gain access to state and local leaders and other resources that smaller groups may not have access to, he said.
“Please use us as a resource,” he said. “A connected business community gives us the best opportunity to thrive.”
Dowd said she would like to reach out to retirees to help grow the association. A volunteer with extensive business experience stepped forward to help start the association and manned a table to collect contact information and personal skills that could help the group.
“It won’t succeed unless you want it to succeed and you’re willing to commit,” Dowd said. “We have to have a goal. For me, it’s because I want a sense of community. I want to know who’s around the corner so I can send people to you, and you can send people to me when they need a gift.
The next step would be to form a steering committee to select a board of directors before deciding on a first project.
“Let’s choose something achievable so we can continue to attract new people,” she said.
Fundraising is also necessary to obtain funds for an operating budget. She suggests creating a business map, with ads from local businesses, but would like to hear other members’ ideas.
The group is currently promoting Shop Small on Saturday November 27, asking business owners to post sales and promotions on their social media pages using the hashtag #shopventnor.
For more information on VBA, see Ventnor Business Association on Facebook.
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