It was said to be cold that spring morning in 1768 when 20 or so businessmen gathered at Fraunces Tavern in Lower Manhattan. The goal was to create a coalition of merchants, intended to help — and even protect — one another.
King George III wasted no time granting a royal charter. But within a few years, this bustling guild would be deeply divided between those loyal to the crown and those seeking independence. The revolutionaries ultimately won — both the war and control of the chamber, which grew from an organization supporting New York City to one that supported New York state.
It is now known as the Partnership for New York City, and many credit the chamber for everything from the birth of the Erie Canal to the development of transatlantic cables to what would become the Metropolitan Transportation Authority.
There are nearly 4,000 chambers of commerce spread across the country today, according to the Association of Chamber of Commerce Executives. And more than 40 them are right here in Nassau County, which is home to 150,000 businesses that employ more than 800,000 people.
No matter how we break down economic development, two key components always remain — people, of course, and businesses.
Nassau is blessed with a number of the county’s largest employers, like Northwell Health, Catholic Health Services of Long Island and the Stop & Shop grocery store chain, which alone employs more than 8,000 workers, according to published reports. The NYU Langone Hospital isn’t far behind.
But the vast majority of businesses are the ones where any of us can walk in, and we know the employees by name. We know the owners. We go to the same churches and synagogues, the same school board meetings, the same parks.
And we depend on every one of these businesses, not just for the goods and services they provide, not just for the jobs and paychecks they create, but also for helping us establish the very sense of community we have come to enjoy.
Some chambers, like the one in Wantagh, host Fourth of July parades every year. The Chamber of Commerce of the Bellmores is known for its street festivals and vendor events, including one coming up April 23. The Glen Cove chamber highlights local eateries with its regular Culinary Delights events.
There are boardwalk fairs hosted by the Long Beach chamber, Kids Fests organized by the Merrick chamber, and car shows from the Oyster Bay-East Norwich chamber.
And we can’t forget the Rockville Centre chamber’s Eat Shop Rock, which last year attracted 75 vendors, 50 food trucks and 18 live bands.
These extraordinary coalitions represent the very lifeblood of our communities. And all of them are part of a much larger consortium that helps enhance those voices even more: The Nassau Council of Chambers of Commerce, which not only advocates and promotes businesses through programs like its “Shop Local” campaign, but also connects businesses with a number of resources, including grants, tax-abatement programs and even federal services, like the Paycheck Protection Program created during the coronavirus pandemic.
“We are a sounding board,” council president Frank Camarano told a breakfast crowd that gathered at our Herald Community Newspapers headquarters last week, adding that the council wants to “give our members a voice.”
With 150,000 businesses, it may feel impossible not to get drowned out in a cacophony of voices.
That’s why chambers are more important than ever, especially as all of us recover from the economic turmoil of the pandemic, while climbing the mountain of supply-chain shortages and high inflation.
There’s a reason why chambers are woven into the very fabric of our society: Without them, there simply wouldn’t be society.