Suburban Essex Chamber of Commerce celebrates 100 years

BLOOMFIELD, NJ — A proclamation commemorating the centennial of the Suburban Essex Chamber of Commerce was read at the Bloomfield Township council meeting on Monday, Feb. 27.

The reading, by 2nd Ward Councilman Nicholas Joanow, noted that the organization was established as the Bloomfield Board of Trade in April 1898 and incorporated March 27, 1917.

Six years later, it was renamed the Bloomfield Chamber of Commerce. Its present identity was established on Jan. 7, 2003, when it merged with the Belleville Chamber of Commerce and included the borough of Glen Ridge. A copy of the written proclamation was given to Donna Pietroiacovo, executive administrator for the chamber.

In a recent interview at her Broad Street office, Pietroiacovo said the chamber has a membership of about 200 businesses but that a lot of local businesses are unaware of what the chamber can do for them. She reflected upon changing times with the increase of restaurants in the area.

“Bloomfield has become a bit more service oriented than retail to the community,” she said. “In the North Center, there use to be a hobby shop and a gift shop. Now they’re restaurants.”

Changing demographics also plays a part in the future of the chamber. Pietroiacovo said language can be a barrier.

“Newer businesses may not be aware that the chamber of commerce can help them,” she said. “And the small business owners won’t necessarily have the time to come to chamber events. They own the restaurants but they are also the cooks.”

She often receives phone calls from private citizens or chamber members asking for a referral.

Members reflect on the importance of the chamber Chamber events are an important way for members to talk about their business or get information for personal reasons.

Mary Murdoch, president of Murdoch Shoes, said people ask her about footwear. The business was established in Newark, on Broadway by her great-grandfather, in 1888. Murdoch believes her store is the only Bloomfield shoe store remaining. It has been a chamber member for 50 years.

“In terms of footwear, we can teach people a lot,” she said. “A person comes up to you with a heel problem or they just had a hip replacement. There’s so many things we can teach people. We also submit payments to insurance companies.”
But it’s not all work and no play for members.

“There maybe is no business but there’s a wine and cheese,” she said. “It’s a fun night to get together and just have a conversation. I love going to the benefits where they give out the scholarships.”

Community involvement is an important aspect of chamber membership. The organization provides scholarships to Bloomfield, Belleville and Glen Ridge high school seniors.

”It’s part of a mission of the chamber to give back, to support students going to college,” said Donna Plotnick, director of marketing at Job Haines. “That’s what the 100th anniversary is about — recognizing people that have done something for the community. There’s a spotlight on them and they’re being recognized.”

At the 100th anniversary gala, to be held March 23 at Nanina’s in the Park, Belleville, the chamber will honor Michael Sceurman, the director of Bloomfield Parks and Recreation; Mary Clyne, the CEO and president of Clara Maass Medical Center; and Jill Simmons, president of The Women’s Club of Glen Ridge.

Job Haines Home was established in Newark in 1897. It moved to Bloomfield in 1903 and provides assisted living, rehabilitation and skilled nursing. Plotnick said chamber members ask her about the facilities.

“We advertise to chamber members,” she said. “Maybe they have a parent or a loved one or a friend and need a higher-level of care. Members of the chamber have come to subacute rehabilitation. Even though Job Haines has been here many years, it’s a quiet, little gem. I don’t think people are aware of it. It’s only when you need it, when a crisis happens.”

Dennis DeCarlo, a trustee for the Glendale Cemetery, sees chamber membership as a way to energize the community involvement of a business. He said the cemetery is setting up a foundation.

“Traditionally we wait for people to come to us,” DeCarlo said. “I want to change that. We’re going out into the community. One of the avenues is going through the Suburban Essex Chamber of Commerce. We have almost 60 acres in Bloomfield and Belleville. We’re always looking to improve ourselves. How do you do that? You go to the chamber. Once we get our foundation going, we can do a bit more things. As a 501(c)3, we can raise funds and put it back into the community.”

He said the cemetery is thinking of sponsoring a Little League team. Going through the chamber for help is invaluable, according to DeCarlo.
“That’s how you find some really quality people,” he said. “You go to the chamber. It’s the place you can go to find out the real movers and shakers in the area.”

DeCarlo said that if any member should ask, he can tell them that the Glendale Cemetery has positioned itself well for the future.

Ed Nejman, the assistant branch manager for Investors Savings, said what he likes most about chamber membership is the publicity.

“My favorite is the directory they offer, listed by name and service,” he said. “We have the directory here and encourage people to take one. It introduces people new to the community to the businesses here and promotes shopping locally even though we’re friendly competitors.”

Neeman is also approached by members asking bank questions.
“More often than not, the questions are related to their business,” he said. “It’s a combination of business and personal. And I learn something about their business.”

The chamber mails and delivers 15,000 of its directories. The chamber, through membership dues, has an income of $60,000 annually, according to Pietroiacovo. Yearly expenses run about $50,000.

But chamber membership is not just for friendly competitors. The Police Benevolent Association Local No. 32, is member, as is the Bloomfield Board of Education, the Foley Field Foundation and the Agape Worship Center.
Maria Paladino Fitz, a vice-president on the chamber board and the owner of a Bloomfield business, Media Consultants, said marketing is a popular subject for members.

“Everyone wants to market their business,” she said. “Everyone wants to tap my knowledge. I’ve been in this business for 25 years.”

Paladino Fitz said there is a comfort level when you meet people in person.
“For instance, the banks and my credit-card company. I went through the chamber of commerce,” she said. “It legitimizes a person’s business when you go through the chamber of commerce.”

Paladino Fitz has been a chamber member for more than 20 years and has always been on the board.

“Networking is the biggest component,” she said of membership. “I’ve found firsthand that developing long-standing relationships with other fellow chamber members is priceless because they get to know you and your business personally and then they never hesitate to recommend your products and services to others.”

It does not stop there. Pietroiacovo also does free notaries and certificates of origin for the five chamber members who own import/export companies.
“You learn about a member’s business and are able to refer them to other people,” Paladino Fitz said. “That’s it in a nutshell. I like to give free advice.”