The Riverside Chamber of Commerce has served the business interests of the village for at least 92 years. The organization made its first appearance in a Riverside News article in April 1930.
But that might not last long.
“We’re on the brink,” said Janice Foley, who in addition to being the director of the Riverside Public Library is the chamber’s first vice president and has been a leader of the organization since 2006.
The Riverside Chamber of Commerce has been in gradual decline for several years, but the COVID-19 pandemic, which froze the organization for months, scuttled events and forced Zoom meetings, put it on life support.
“We did nothing this first year [of the pandemic]”, Foley said. “But it was already decreasing. When we had meetings, it was always the same people who attended and the under-10s would come.
The chamber’s website lists just 31 members, a far cry from the roughly 120 members the chamber boasted about a decade ago. This golden age came under the leadership of the organization’s longtime president, David Moravecek, owner of Ivins/Moravecek Funeral Home.
He had held onto that title – largely because no one would claim it from him – for 15 years until he announced in late 2019 that it was time for a change.
When he agreed to be president of the chamber, the organization found itself in a similar situation. Longtime leaders were aging and new leaders, business owners with a lot to do, weren’t really rushing to replace them.
“I was overwhelmed at the time,” Moravecek said. “I had taken over the business a few years earlier.”
But Moravecek was also the deputy speaker of the chamber and was expected to step into the lead role.
“I was at the meeting when they said they were closing the Riverside Chamber of Commerce,” he said. “So I stepped in to do my two-year term [as president]. It turned into 15 years.
When Moravecek finally stepped back in late 2019, it was the same story. Although some members came forward, they did so reluctantly.
Greg Gorski, who runs a web consulting business and was a longtime member of the Riverside TV Commission, has volunteered to take over as chairman. He could not be reached for this story.
Foley, a member of the chamber through the library since 2000, remained first vice president. The new officers included Jason Hinsley, a real estate professional, and Rich Lukes, owner of Comic Collector on Harlem Avenue.
Now treasurer of the chamber, Lukes was “not super active” as a member before 2019, despite paying dues for more than two decades.
“I was a little guilty because of the lack of participation,” Lukes said. “It’s kind of the story of the last two years.”
Just months after the leadership change, the COVID pandemic swept through.
While the pandemic hasn’t helped, Lukes said, that’s not why the chamber is struggling.
“There’s an apathy to get involved,” said Lukes, who is also chairman of the West Suburban Symphony board.
Once a sponsor of car shows, an annual fried steak fundraiser, the Riverside Person of the Year dinner, a more recent event called RiverFest, and the beloved Holiday Stroll, the only event that seems to have survived the pandemic is the Holiday Stroll.
Without a chamber to support it, it is also in danger.
“The march was a success and we’re getting a bit more turnout, but other than that no one wants to interfere,” Lukes said. “You can’t entrust everything to the same five people.
The chamber sent out a survey to its members in early March to gauge interest in the organization. There was also a link to the survey posted on Facebook, so members of the public could weigh in. He received 17 responses, Foley said, with several indicating that the room was not important to them.
“And those who are interested, and I include myself in that, are getting older,” Foley said. “That’s not what you need for leadership.”
Chamber officers last met on March 30 for what amounted to a decision to place the chamber in hospice.
“We want to let people know that’s how we feel,” Lukes said. “Maybe it will shock people and see if it gets them involved.
“Otherwise it was a great race.”