The Greater Westhampton Chamber of Commerce’s annual Snowball, the merchant group’s biggest fund-raiser of the winter, will still be held at the end of January though the next party will be organized by a new business organization—the Westhampton Alliance of Merchants.
For the past 13 years, the Snowball has raised thousands of dollars a year for local non-profit groups, such as the Southampton Town Aquatic Recreation Center, while being chaired by Erin Finley, the owner of Sydney’s “Taylor Made” Cuisine on Main Street in the village. The annual party, which has been sponsored by the chamber for years, was conceived by Jean Curran, the general manager of Starr Boggs, according to Ms. Finley.
However, Ms. Finley recently resigned as treasurer of the Greater Westhampton Chamber of Commerce and will host next month’s fund-raiser through a newly resurrected business improvement organization that, unlike the chamber, includes only Westhampton Beach businesses. The group, the Westhampton Alliance of Merchants (WHAM), was formerly known as the Westhampton Associated Merchants before dissolving at least six years ago, according to Ms. Finley.
Unlike the chamber, which also includes businesses in the hamlets of Westhampton, Remsenburg, Speonk and Quogue, WHAM will primarily focus on improving village businesses, namely those located on Main Street, Mitchell and Mill roads, Moniebogue Lane and Sunset Avenue in Westhampton Beach, Ms. Finley said. She added that she, Ms. Curran and Marcus Donahue, the owner of MD Tennis on Main Street, are leading the effort to relaunch WHAM.
Ms. Finley said she intends to register WHAM as a not-for-profit group with the New York State Department of State’s Division of Corporations in January.
Though her eatery is still a member of the chamber, Ms. Finley said it makes sense for the new merchant group to sponsor the Snowball, noting that she and Ms. Curran were the primary organizers of the event when it was first sponsored by Westhampton Associated Merchants, the earlier version of WHAM.
“With WHAM re-created, there was no reason [the Snowball] shouldn’t go back to its rightful owners,” Ms. Finley said.
The next Snowball will be held on Saturday, January 31, at Atlantica on Dune Road in Westhampton Beach, and the proceeds will benefit Human Understanding Growth Seminars, a program that helps teach life skills to Westhampton Beach middle and high school students. Tickets are $50 each and now available at Lynne’s Cards & Gifts, Sydney’s “Taylor Made” Cuisine, Simon’s Beach Bakery Café, and Brunetti Hair and Beauty, all located on Main Street in Westhampton Beach.
The Snowball’s change of focus, and the creation of a second and competing business organization in Westhampton Beach, has prompted grumbles from other members of the Greater Westhampton Chamber of Commerce, some of whom feel that Ms. Finley and her new group stole the Snowball name away from the chamber. Bob Murray, the new president of the chamber, explained that when Ms. Finley resigned from the chamber board last month, she never gave board members any indication that she “was taking the Snowball” with her, nor did she explain to them that the next fund-raiser would be sponsored by WHAM.
“We went to reserve the space at Atlantica this year, and we found the space had been taken and that Erin was going to run her own Snowball for the benefit of some organization,” Mr. Murray said. “We don’t have a trademark on the Snowball [name].”
He added that chamber members were considering holding their own Snowball this winter, though they later decided against sponsoring a similar and competing event. “We think it’s unfortunate that this occurred,” Mr. Murray said. “We’ll do a fund-raising event at some other time during the year.”
Elyse Richman, whose three businesses—Shock, Baby Shock and Shock Ice Cream—are located on Main Street in Westhampton Beach, says she will continue to be a part of the chamber. Ms. Richman, who has sparred with Ms. Finley in the past, most recently over amplified music this summer, finds fault in her fellow business owner’s actions.
“The problem is … that when you’re on the board of the chamber, you’re doing it as a volunteer, for the best interest of the businesses of the area,” Ms. Richman said. “It’s just wrong, it’s really wrong,” she added, referring to Ms. Finley’s decision to take the Snowball away from the chamber.
Ms. Finley said she resigned as treasurer of the chamber in November because of a “difference of opinion with other board members.” Ms. Finley, who had served as chamber treasurer for the past four years, said she does not understand why chamber members were surprised when she decided to take her event with her.
“I don’t know what they thought,” Ms. Finley said about the chamber’s Board of Directors, adding that she never made a formal announcement that WHAM would be sponsoring the next Snowball. “The event has always been Jean [Curran’s] and mine,” she said.
The chamber raised $20,000 through its the most recent Snowball. Mr. Murray said that half of the proceeds from the event were donated to SHARC, while the other half was used to fund other chamber projects. Ms. Finley said she hopes to raise at least $10,000 with the next Snowball.
Ms. Finley explained that Ms. Curran first devised the idea for a Snowball 13 years ago for the Westhampton Associated Merchants, and Ms. Curran brought the event to the Greater Westhampton Chamber of Commerce. Ms. Curran did not return e-mails or messages left for her this week at Starr Boggs. The chamber website does not list her as a board member, though the restaurant is a member of the business group.
Meanwhile, Ms. Finley said it makes sense for them to take back the event upon leaving the chamber.
“I’ve ran this for 12 years,” Ms. Finley said. “People in the chamber need to realize it’s still an event being held for charity. I don’t know who would have held the event if it was still in the chamber. I don’t understand the issue.
“There’s still going to be a charity benefit, but without any of the headache for the chamber,” Ms. Finley continued.
Mr. Murray disagrees with Ms. Finley’s version of events, noting that many chamber members have worked to organize the Snowball for the past 13 years.
“It is not Erin’s Snowball,” Mr. Murray said. “She did not found the Snowball.”
Meanwhile, other chamber officials said they remain hopeful that the division that prompted Ms. Finley to leave the chamber does not hurt the fund-raiser.
“There’s a divisive undercurrent going on here, and I hope that the undercurrent doesn’t affect the community outreach,” said Ed Kurosz, the secretary of the Greater Westhampton Chamber of Commerce. “I hope it doesn’t affect the contribution to HUGS, an organization that does such good deeds.”