20 Questions: Lewis County native grows chamber strength and membership

CEO and President of the Lewis County Chamber of Commerce Kristen Aucter, poses for a portrait at her desk in the Chamber’s Lowville office.

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The Business of Small Business


President Calvin Coolidge stated that “the business of America is business” and although the statement was made in the 1920’s it still rings true today. The encouragement of entrepreneurship across the country idealizes our willingness to take risks and reach for the stars. The successful businesses that run through our small towns and communities provide the nourishment to keep that enthusiasm and those dreams alive.

    Small businesses create a strong middle class, give back exponentially to the community and have been, throughout the nation’s history, the primary source of job creation in the country. It is our job as consumers to continuously provide support to perpetuate the cycle of success to the business owner and the communities we live in.

    According to the Small Business Administration, small businesses make up 99.7% of US employer firms. Since the last recession they have accounted for 67% of the new jobs created! Those statistics alone should make people want to identify how to continue our small business revolution. Here are some ideas on how you, as a consumer or business, can do just that:

  1. Shop there! This one shouldn’t need much of an explanation. Visit their businesses. Use their services. Make it a habit to check what they have available before going to larger box stores.
  2. Participate in “Small Business Saturday”. Since 2010 American Express has been encouraging consumers to skip Black Friday shopping and support their local small businesses. The campaign was launched in an effort to aid small businesses in gaining exposure and to change the way consumers shop in their own community. Many Chambers of Commerce, including Lewis County’s, open their doors on that day as a welcome station. Providing lists of business open for the day, reusable shopping bags and goodies for kids or pets who may be tagging along!
  3. Encourage your friends and family to shop local. Everyone hates the dreaded question “what do you want for your birthday/Christmas/graduation etc”. Let them know you love what the local shops have to offer. It not only gets you what you want but introduces a new customer to those businesses.
  4. Look into community gift certificates. Many local Chambers offer gift certificates that can be used at multiple participating businesses in the area. Lewis County will have Chamber Ca$h available as of June 1st. It is a dollar for dollar match that will allow the recipient to purchase goods and services locally!
  5. Organize a community event. Small Business Saturday doesn’t have to be the only day of the year to step foot in the doors of these businesses. Be creative and host an event that encourages people to become aware of what hidden treasures your community has.
  6. If you enjoy your experience provide a good review. Yelp, Google and Foursquare are all review sites that other people use when making decisions where to shop. It is the new “word of mouth”. It will increase their visibility in search results and continues to foster that sense of trust in small businesses.
  7. Network. Network. Network. Business After Hours are a great way to know what is new in the community. Most small businesses start out of someone’s home. While these businesses might not have a store front to visit this doesn’t mean they aren’t exactly what you are looking for and you can help them grow. As a Chamber we encourage these new, up and coming businesses to come to Chamber events to let people know what they have to offer.
  8. Collaboration. Do you own a small business? Do you have skills or insight that might be a benefit to someone just starting out? Reach out to your Chamber to host a speaking event in a local speaker series at a free or discounted price.

   Beyond creating jobs, investing in locally owned small businesses keeps money in your community to support other important initiatives through the local sales tax earned. Education, law enforcement and emergency services, parks, and other publically funded programs all benefit immensely.

And, of course, shopping at local small businesses creates a unique experience you can’t have online. Small businesses tend to provide a more personal customer experience and offer special things you wouldn’t find elsewhere.

Kristen Aucter is the president and CEO of the Lewis County Chamber of Commerce. Contact her by emailing kristen@lewiscountychamber.org.

What Exactly Does Your Chamber of Commerce Do?

Kristen Aucter

The number of times I have heard this from business owners in my short time at the Lewis County Chamber of Commerce has been surprising, though, in a way, it shouldn’t be. I found myself asking this question when branching out into the business world and wanting to be more involved in the community as well.

    Previous experience across the country had provided me with the insight that if you were interested in a particular geographical area, that the chamber of commerce was the place to find information. But these experiences did not necessarily delve into the details of what they did.

    Breaking it down to bare bones, it’s all about supporting the business community. Not only should chambers be a spokesperson for local businesses, but they should also provide services and benefits to increase the success of the business community. The combination of these work to create a connected environment in which businesses, and in turn the community, flourish.

    It is true that all businesses go through stages of growth. The plateaus are nice, when a business and its people can rest and enjoy the rewards of a job well done; however, most business owners aren’t willing to sit for long before seeking the next challenge. A primary function of a chamber of commerce is to support and promote businesses regardless of their stage in the game; not only with membership benefits, but with networking opportunities. In small communities like ours, there are other local businesses and experts who can help you to your next stage.

    Finding these connections at a chamber networking event is one of the greatest opportunities that a chamber of commerce offers. Think of it as joining a private club, where all members are willing to help one another. Success for one encourages success for the others. Networking leads to stronger businesses and stronger businesses lead to a more stable economic foundation in the community.

    The most successful business owners are willing to give back, because years ago someone paid it forward to them. Paying it forward is good for business. While many studies show that chamber members rank networking as number one on their list of benefits from the chamber, that is not the only thing of value that they have found.

    According a study done by The Shapiro Group Inc. in 2012, if a customer knows that a small business is a member of the chamber of commerce, they are 44 percent more likely to think positively of it and 80 percent more likely to purchase goods or services from the company in the future. More or less, businesses that are chamber members get more customers simply because of their association with the chamber.

    Getting your information out can be a costly venture for any business. Marketing services offered by chambers provide a great return on investment for your membership fee. In addition to thousands of referrals made by chamber staff each year they also have website, community events, print advertising and last, but not least, social media to assist in your marketing needs.

    In a way, a chamber of commerce works for the population as a whole, encouraging the development of infrastructure, recreational areas, innovations for established and new industries. These advancements also encourage population growth. The increase in residents leads to an increase in demand for services like real estate, insurance companies and construction jobs, improving the economy of an area. And who connects these people with the businesses who can meet their needs? You guessed it: a chamber of commerce.

                While chamber benefits do vary from region to region, I think you will find the advantages of being part of your local chamber community far outweigh the cost. At the Lewis County Chamber of Commerce we are always searching for ways to help our businesses succeed and encourage our members to come talk to us with new ideas. Because at the end of the day the question shouldn’t be “what does a chamber of commerce do?” but “what doesn’t a chamber of commerce do?” 

Kristen Aucter is the president and CEO of the Lewis County Chamber of Commerce. Contact her by emailing kristen@lewiscountychamber.org.

May 2016: Business Scene

Carthage Area Chamber of Commerce Business After Hours at Community Bank

Community Bank’s West Carthage branch hosted the April Carthage Area Chamber of Commerce Business After Hours on April 13. [Read more…]

April 2016: Business Scene

GWNC Chamber Business After Hours at Carthage Savings and Loan

Carthage Savings and Loan Association hosted the March Greater Watertown-North Country Chamber of Commerce Business After Hours at its Arsenal Street offices on Wednesday, March 16. Photos by Karee Magee, NNY Business. [Read more…]

February 2016: Business Scene

GWNC Chamber of Commerce Business After Hours at Tunes 92.5 & 104.5 FM

Tunes 92.5/104.5 FM WBLH Radio, Watertown, hosted the January Business After Hours at its Washington Street broadcast studios on Jan. 20. Photos by Karee Magee, NNY Business. [Read more…]

Lowville theater owners named Lewis businesspersons of the year

Owners of the historic Town Hall Theater have been named the Lewis County Chamber of Commerce 33rd annual businesspersons of the year.

Patrick A. and Patricia L. O’Brien will receive the award at a banquet Nov. 20 at the Glenfield fire hall on Blue Street.

“We feel very proud to be a part of our local community, and it is truly an honor to be recognized for our efforts,” Mr. O’Brien said.

The O’Briens, who have owned the theater since September 1990, also have a beekeeping operation and sell honey under the O’Brien’s Apiary brand. Mrs. O’Brien also serves as Lewis County treasurer.

Chamber Executive Director Anne L. Merrill said her board was very pleased to recognize the O’Briens, given their dedication to the community over the years.

“When it was time to make a decision on whether or not to take the next step and go digital, it was a huge expense for them, but they embraced it and continued to offer affordable family-oriented entertainment,” Mrs. Merrill said.

With 35mm film due to be discontinued, the O’Briens in 2012 added a digital projection system at their Shady Avenue theater.

While the upgrade was a roughly $100,000 investment, Mr. O’Brien said at the time that maintaining the old movie house was very important to his family, given the strong community support over their past two decades of ownership.

“Most small-town theaters have gone out of business a long time ago,” he said during a March 2012 interview. “This is a rare community that keeps a single-screen movie theater going.”

In a nomination letter for the award, the O’Briens were lauded for their generosity in giving movie passes or other donations for many local causes and promoting community events on screen before their movie showings.

The theater over the past couple of years has hosted a number of special events, including a free showing of “Simple Servants: The Story of Lewis County Mennonites,” a sensory-friendly showing of “Frozen,” a special showing of the independent film “Get Out Alive” from local filmmaker Clay Dumaw, and the Reel Alternative series of classic films organized in conjunction with the Arts Community of Lewis County.

“The O’Briens could simply show only major motion pictures, collect their revenue and do the same thing weekend after weekend. But they don’t,” the nomination letter said.

Mr. and Mrs. O’Brien are members of the National Association of Theater Owners and the Cinema Buying Group.

Mr. O’Brien also serves on the boards of Mountain View Prevention Services and the American Motorcycle Association and is a past member of the Arts Community of Lewis County and the Central New York Beekeepers Association, while Mrs. O’Brien serves on the Lewis County Planning Board and is a member of the New York State Treasurers Association.

For more information or to reserve a place at the Nov. 20 banquet, call the chamber office at 376-2213.


By Steve Virkler, Johnson Newspapers

Seasonal showcase for local woodworkers planned in downtown Lowville

On Tuesday, Edward J. Knapp puts up a window sign for the new Northern Tier Woodwrights shop on South State Street in Lowville. The seasonal shop, featuring products from local woodworkers, is slated to be open from mid-October through mid-December. Steve Virkler / Johnson Newspapers

A new seasonal store showcasing products by local woodworkers will be coming this fall to downtown Lowville.

The Northern Tier Woodwrights “pop up” store is slated to be open Thursdays through Saturdays between mid-October and mid-December in a South State Street storefront located between New York Pizzeria and the Lewis County Chamber of Commerce office.

“It will be a nice space and will provide another stop for the holiday shoppers downtown,” said Edward J. Knapp, who is spearheading the new venture. [Read more…]

Lewis County Chamber of Commerce Annual Meeting – September 2013

The Lewis County Chamber of Commerce held its Annual Meeting and Anniversary Recognition Presentation on Sept. 19 at its Lowville offices.

Business Briefcase – Sept. 2013

Lewis Chamber accepting nominations for Business Person of the Year Award

The Lewis County Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors is accepting nominations for the Lewis County Business Person of the Year Award for 2013. This is the 32nd consecutive year the award will be presented to an individual that has demonstrated outstanding civic contributions to the Lewis County community.

Candidates will be judged on business and community involvement, as well as on leadership, dedication, motivation, achievements and citizenship.

The award will be formally presented at the Lewis County Chamber of Commerce Annual Business Person of the Year Dinner on Thursday, Nov. 21. [Read more…]