Group seeks to reenergize Westhampton Beach business district

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A business organization that dissolved nearly six years ago has been resurrected, and the merchant behind the group says it will focus on improving the look of Main Street in Westhampton Beach, while also drawing customers to the village’s main commercial artery throughout the year.

The new organization, called the Westhampton Alliance of Merchants, or WHAM, is being led by Erin Finley, the owner of Sydney’s “Taylor” Made Cuisine on Main Street. She resigned from the Greater Westhampton Chamber of Commerce late last year, instead resolving to breathe new life into another business organization that was formerly known as Westhampton Associated Merchants.

The Westhampton Associated Merchants, which operated in the village from 1996 until 2003, was created because the old chamber was “malfunctioning” and “totally sucked” at the time, according to Simon Jorna, the owner of Simon’s Beach Bakery on Main Street and a director of the former version of WHAM. That group dissolved after the chamber improved its operations and moved its office from Montauk Highway to Main Street, Mr. Jorna said.

The goal of the new group, according to Ms. Finley, is to beautify the village and make it a more desirable, year-round destination for shoppers.

The upcoming “Snowball,” arguably the area’s most popular winter fund-raiser and one that has been run by the chamber for at least the past nine years, will serve as the kick-off event for WHAM, according to Ms. Finley. The event, which was conceived 13 years ago by WHAM Director Jean Curran, will be held at the Atlantica on Dune Road in Westhampton Beach on Saturday, January 31, at 8 p.m. Proceeds will benefit Human Understanding Growth Seminars, also known as HUGS, and various village business improvements, just like it has in the past, according to Ms. Finley.

Unlike their Greater Westhampton Chamber of Commerce counterparts, WHAM’s members will be limited to businesses located in the hamlet of Westhampton or the Village of Westhampton Beach, Ms. Finley said. The chamber permits businesses in Quogue, East Quogue, Speonk and Eastport to join its ranks.

“WHAM’s primary focus will be to maintain year-round businesses on Main Street, and what can be done on a whole to make Westhampton Beach more appealing,” Ms. Finley said. “WHAM wants to put an emphasis on Main Street.”

Chamber President Bob Murray argues that his organization has been and continues to be very strongly focused on downtown Westhampton Beach. Noting that the chamber’s office is located on Glover’s Lane in the village, Mr. Murray said his business organization sponsors annual art shows on Mill Road, as well as sidewalk sales on Main Street.

“We function so centrally in Westhampton Beach, it’s to the benefit of all the merchants,” Mr. Murray said. “Our functions are all centered in Westhampton Beach, on the Village Green, on Main Street and Mill Road.”

Ms. Finley stressed that WHAM is not looking to replace the chamber, noting that while both groups will cover similar terrain, she still hopes to work with chamber members in the future. She noted that her deli is still a chamber member, noting that many business owners who have expressed an interest or already joined WHAM are also chamber members.

“There’s no reason that events or work done inside the village can’t be a joint venture,” Ms. Finley said.

In order not to place a financial burden on local businesses, Ms. Finley said that, at least for WHAM’s first year of operation, members will not have to pay annual dues. “We did this because a lot of businesses are chamber members,” she said. “We did this as a non-dues organization so businesses could belong to both organizations.

“We don’t want people to have to make a financial choice between the two organizations, so that they can join WHAM, see how it works, and see if they want to become a member,” Ms. Finley continued.

The chamber fee schedule is $75 for a corporation and $195 for an individual, Mr. Murray noted. Ms. Finley has not yet released a fee schedule for her group, though she said Tuesday that it would be comparable to the chamber’s.

WHAM was recently registered as a not-for-profit organization with New York State, Ms. Finley noted. As of Tuesday, her group was not yet listed with the New York State Department of State’s Division of Corporations. However, Ms. Finley said it should be listed shortly.

Marcus Donahue, the owner of MD Tennis on Main Street, and Ms. Curran, the general manager of Starr Boggs, are both directors of the new business improvement organization. Presently, the group boasts about a dozen members, including Brunetti Hair and Beauty, Darbelle, Fahrenheit 451 and Village Graphics.

Following the “Snowball,” WHAM will hold its first official meeting in February, most likely in Ms. Finley’s deli. At that meeting, the members will elect officers as well, she noted.

One current group member, attorney Dwayne Wagner, said he joined WHAM because of its specific focus on Main Street. Mr. Wagner, whose office is located on Main Street in Westhampton Beach, previously served as vice president for the East Quogue Chamber of Commerce.

“My understanding is that the [Greater Westhampton] Chamber has expanded its scope and regional reach to be way beyond Westhampton Beach,” Mr. Wagner said. “The history of WHAM is focused on the village area, on promoting the village.”

Mr. Wagner, who is also a member of the chamber, noted that there are pros and cons to having a large chamber membership. But, at the same time, he suggested that the current chamber might cover too large a territory. According to the chamber’s website, the group boasts more than 200 businesses.

“They opened up the chamber, and maybe diluted it,” Mr. Wagner said, adding that he intends to retain memberships with both business organizations.

To accomplish her goals, Ms. Finley said she would like WHAM to finance an off-season advertising campaign, and offer its members co-op advertising in local publications. She would also like to have group members present at all of the Westhampton Beach Village Board meetings.

Ms. Finley noted that while WHAM will concentrate its resources on Main Street, the group’s efforts will benefit the entire community, including those businesses that are not located in the heart of Westhampton Beach.

“It will benefit the North Mall area, too,” Ms. Finley said, noting that the businesses on Sunset Avenue, Moniebogue Lane, and Mill Road will reap the benefits of any positive changes on Main Street as well.

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