This year marks the 60th anniversary of the Zionsville Chamber of Commerce. In those 60 years, the community has undergone significant growth and change. For starters, the area has evolved from the Village of Zionsville to the Town of Zionsville.
“Charter members were business advocates who brought the business community together in order to make sure that they had a collective voice with the town village,” says Allyson Gutwein, the Chamber’s executive director. “They wanted to make sure that people knew what the businesses needed in order to ensure they stayed strong and growing.”
David Brown’s parents were charter members of the Zionsville Chamber. Brown currently owns and operates Brown’s Antiques & Lampshades.
“Over the past 60 years we’ve seen many shops and businesses come and go here in the village, some in existence only briefly, while others have been in operation for many years,” Brown says. “The one constant during this time has been the continuation of effort by the Chamber of Commerce to promote not only the business community, but also the town itself.”
“So many of these businesses have gone through different iterations,” she says. “We’ve also had different businesses come in and out of our community, all of which have made it a destination spot for central Indiana for people to come and visit. We want to make sure that legacy lives on. People come to Zionsville because of its charm, and the comfort level that folks have with their neighbors and the familiarity that they have with knowing the business owners by name. That’s what makes it so special.”
The Chamber is holding a celebratory banquet this summer. They anticipate it being a hybrid indoor-outdoor event, so that attendees will feel safe and comfortable. The coronavirus has made planning difficult for many throughout the past year. In fact, Gutwein and her staff have begun planning parallel events so that if they have to drop an event, they have a backup ready to go. Though it makes for twice the work, it’s the best operating system they have come up with during this unique period in time.
“We’re no longer running on a nice track,” Gutwein says. “We’re running on quicksand, trying not to sink.”
The Chamber wishes to honor the heritage of Zionsville businesses by celebrating its diamond jubilee (a phrase referring to a 60th anniversary celebration) with a banquet highlighting images from the past six decades.
“60 years is worth celebrating because it takes a lot for any organization to get to 60 years,” says Gutwein, who calls the Chamber family. “While families don’t always agree, we still always love one another. That’s a good analogy for our Chamber because we really are this strong, cohesive group that wants to see their neighbors succeed.”
One of the most inspiring things Gutwein has witnessed throughout this challenging year is the way local businesses have rallied around one another. For instance, last spring when so many were shut down, they participated in Zoom calls and webinars in order to engage with the community. The Chamber also did many Facebook Live events at businesses. They called it “Keep the Lights On,” and it was designed to show the public the merchandise available in various businesses.
“It was almost like a live QVC type of shopping experience,” Gutwein says.
Business owners told Gutwein they made more money on the day of the Facebook Live event than they had in weeks, because customers were able to browse their stores virtually. This gave business owners a nudge to get proactive with social media, as they recognized how powerful visual cues can be when marketing products.
In 2019, the social media reach for the Zionsville Chamber was 250,000. Last year it jumped to more than 2,000,000. That, in turn, translated to a rise in membership. Before 2020, the most members the Chamber had added in one year was 42. Last year they gained 120. Though many people are weary of the virtual elements of life, there’s no denying they can provide convenience.
“With social media, vlogs and podcasts, you’re reaching people where they are, and that’s great because even when we’re not in a pandemic, a lot of people can’t make it to our in-person networking events and meetings,” Gutwein says.
Moving forward, the Chamber is offering many new ways to get involved, including programming for members to help them gain visibility through podcasts, social media and educational opportunities. Councilman Alex Choi donated his Town Council salary to have marketing videos created for Chamber members, to help increase traffic to their businesses.
“We’ve had a lot of community members who stepped up in one way or another to help our businesses,” Gutwein says. “Those who have weathered the storm have learned a lot about themselves as business owners, and that’s going to make them stronger, tougher and more galvanized for the future.”
Thankfully, Zionsville businesses have tremendous community support.
“At the end of the day, the community has to support these businesses for them to survive and thrive,” Gutwein says.
That’s precisely what she has repeatedly witnessed – people altering their way of shopping and dining to make sure businesses survive. In the spring of 2020, the Chamber rolled out a new contactless gift card program that enables folks to purchase gift cards online, to quickly get money back into the community. Local businesses Harris FLP, Price Baker Enterprises and CK Price Properties all provided funding for a gift card match program. They donated a $10 bonus for each $30 gift card purchased, to incentivize people to spend locally.
“They donated $10,000 so we could do this,” Gutwein says. “That injected $40,000 into our community. That was huge.”
“The Chamber’s effort to promote Zionsville has helped to make our unique community well-known both far and wide,” Brown adds. “It’s hard to imagine Zionsville being where it is today without the Zionsville Chamber’s work over these many years.”
The Zionsville Chamber of Commerce is located at 112 North 9th Street. For more information, call 317-873-3836 or visit zionsvillechamber.org.