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Cairo chamber will most likely close

The Cairo Town Board, pictured from left: Councilman Dan Joyce, Town Supervisor Daniel Benoit, Councilwoman Mary-Jo Cords and Councilman Gary Warner discuss the problems faced by the Cairo Chamber of Commerce at a meeting Wednesday.
September 21, 2018 06:52 pm Updated: September 24, 2018 04:50 pm


CAIRO — The town board Wednesday declined a proposed donation to the Cairo Chamber of Commerce in an effort to keep the organization afloat.

The matter was discussed at the town board’s monthly meeting.

The chamber is sponsoring two upcoming events, the annual Harvest Festival on Oct. 6 and the Christmas in Cairo parade Nov. 25, but its future looks grim, Town Councilman Dan Joyce said.

“After that, unless they seek some support coming forward, that’s going to be the end of their activities,” Joyce said. “Businesses in the town aren’t coming out and supporting the chamber of commerce.”

The chamber consists of five members, including Executive Director M.A. Tarpinian. The chamber is seeking financial support from the town and from member businesses.

“The phrase would be they’re burned out,” Joyce said. “If you do belong as a business, you have to pay them so much dues.”

The Cairo chamber, which has existed for more than 60 years, depends largely on membership dues, sponsors, grants and events it holds throughout the year, according to the chamber’s website.

Town Supervisor Daniel Benoit recalled a situation years ago when the chamber solicited donations from businesses so it could be listed on a brochure which would have been available to visitors to the town, but it never came to fruition.

“To some extent, they haven’t helped themselves,” Benoit said. “Whatever business there is in the town is what should be supporting the chamber of commerce.”

Benoit opposes bailing out the chamber with town funds and will not contact businesses to urge them to join, he said after the meeting. He said the chamber did not ask for a specific amount of money Wednesday. “That’s not a proper function for us,” Benoit said. “We just can’t hand them money.”

The town board has allocated small amounts of money to the chamber for specific events in the past, Town Councilwoman Mary-Jo Cords said after the meeting.

“They have to do their own recruitment program. That’s really not up to us,” Cords said.

The chamber will most likely shut down following the events in October and November, Tarpinian said Thursday. It is becoming more difficult to get people to volunteer, she said.

“There’s not the sense of volunteerism,” she said. “It’s the same horse pulling the same wagons.”

Obtaining funding is difficult as similar organizations including the Cairo Development Foundation have emerged in recent years, all seeking support from many of the same donors, Tarpinian said.

“You don’t want to drain them dry,” she said. “If you have too many organizations, they [the public] can support them, but they can’t sustain.”

Moral support for an organization is more important at times than financial, and the chamber’s members have all volunteered their time for years, but there is only so much they can do after a while, Tarpinian said.

“You can only knock your head against a brick wall so many times,” she said. “If we didn’t love this community, we wouldn’t have bothered.”

It will be up to other organizations to hold community events and support the businesses, Tarpinian said.

Tarpinian harbors no ill will toward the other groups.

“It’s time for other organizations to step up to the plate — we’re all tired,” Tarpinian said. “I wish them all well.”

The county’s chambers of commerce in Cairo, Windham and Hunter are more focused on community events, while the Greene County Chamber of Commerce focuses on marketing and lobbying on behalf of businesses, county Chamber President Jeff Friedman said. Local chambers don’t hinder the county chamber’s efforts, Friedman said.

“It has no effect on our membership,” Friedman said. “I think it just adds to the work being done in the communities.”

Many Greene County businesses belong to the county and local chambers. The local chambers are sustained by community support, Friedman said.

“We all need the cart for the same horse to create community growth,” Friedman said.

*Editor's note: This story reflects a change. The Cairo Town Board declined the proposed donation to the Cairo Chamber of Commerce. There was no resolution or official vote.

To reach reporter Daniel Zuckerman email or follow him on Twitter @DZuckerman_CGM.