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A VIEW FROM THE BRIDGE
There was a time, not too long ago, when one could turn to the Chamber of Commerce for just about any kind of information regarding local business, travel and visiting tips, and references for help on a wide range of topics.
Really, the Chamber was a resource for vital information, delivered by a friendly and knowledgeable person in ways that a telephone directory simply couldn’t.
Today, Chambers of Commerce are fast disappearing from towns all across America, and South Texas is no exception. There is no information anymore from any Pearsall Chamber of Commerce, and the Dilley Chamber appears to have vanished entirely. In fact, buildings that housed the Chamber in each of those towns have either been shuttered or repurposed.
The only remaining Chamber of Commerce in our coverage area is that of Cotulla and La Salle County, and I think that’s marvelous. I’m pleased that an organization representing the businesses and community groups, encouraging tourism and local shopping, and supporting new enterprise is still active in one of the towns we cover in this newspaper.
However, ask anyone in Cotulla or La Salle County what they think the Chamber of Commerce does, and there’s a good chance they won’t be able to tell you, or they haven’t heard of it. Maybe they’ve never used its resources or attended any events the Chamber hosts… and maybe, just maybe, they look elsewhere when they need information on local businesses or places to stay the night.
They use the internet.
It’s fast, it’s on the phone or laptop, and it includes just about everything you need, from addresses to opening hours and even map directions. Furthermore, it’s available twenty-four hours a day, every day, from anywhere in the world.
What, then, does a Chamber of Commerce do, exactly?
Is the old-fashioned organization, the experienced fraternity of local entrepreneurs, the supportive group that helps new businesses start or old ones survive hard times, fast becoming… dare I say it, obsolete?
I don’t want to think so.
I don’t want the small-town bonds between shoppers and businesses to go the way of the landline and the typewriter, the fax machine and the handwritten letter. But perhaps I’m old-fashioned myself. Perhaps I prefer to talk to a real human being who knows things that the internet doesn’t, who can tell me which hotel has the best mattresses or which store has a good-quality hat, where I can find an excellent plate of enchiladas or who can deliver a sack of deer corn to my truck.
Perhaps I want to maintain the bonds of friendship between businesses, shake hands with people at a newcomer’s grand opening day, enjoy some gooey cookies with all the store staff at a community Christmas function or simply know the one number to call for any random thing I might need.
There is no question that many of a Chamber’s functions are things of the past, that store and hotel listings can be found and compared faster over the internet, and that maps and suchlike can be printed right at home from a cellphone. It’s entirely possible that a Chamber office close to a principal highway will no longer be visited in person by an inquisitive traveler or that business owners no longer need membership plaques or wish to pay fees for something they can’t really define.
A Chamber, then, must evolve if it is to survive. A Chamber has to become the internet resource, the go-to site online, the publisher of informative bulletins and news, the 24-hour lifeline for the traveler.
Failing that, honestly, sadly, a Chamber office is redundant.