A group of unhappy business owners gathered at The Beach Bakery in Westhampton Beach last week to discuss the possibility of breaking away from the Greater Westhampton Chamber of Commerce and forming their own organization.
Organized by Elyse Richman, the longtime owner of the Shock, Baby Shock and Shock Ice Cream stores on Main Street—and also currently a member of the chamber—the meeting attracted about 30 business owners who discussed their grievances and options, the latter of which included the possibility of forming a separate Westhampton Beach Business Alliance.
“There’s a disconnect between the chamber and businesses,” Ms. Richman said on Monday. “There is no cohesiveness.”
She said a common complaint brought up at the meeting, held last Thursday, November 16, was the chamber’s last-minute decision to move the village’s annual Harvest Festival in early October from Main Street to the Great Lawn, which sits on the western end of the business corridor. “They had approvals for Main Street,” Ms. Richman added.
Westhampton Beach Mayor Maria Moore, who briefly attended last week’s meeting, explained that the decision not to close Main Street was made by the Village Board. She explained that members did not initially realize that the original request would have also forced the closure of nearby Sunset Avenue. When informed of the issue, chamber officials opted to move the festival to the Great Lawn instead of requesting the closure of a different stretch of Main Street, according to the mayor.
“With respect to the Harvest Festival, the original plan was to close Main Street for the day,” Ms. Moore said.
Noelle Bass, the president of the chamber, did not return calls this week.
Others who attended the meeting, including Beach Bakery owner Simon Jorna, said his main issue is the lack of retailers sitting on the chamber’s board of directors. He also stated that he and other business owners are concerned about the village’s plans to overhaul Main Street and create a sewer district.
“Why not just have a group within the chamber for Main Street merchants?” said Mr. Jorna, who said he does not support splitting from the chamber entirely.
He later added: “I am personally worried about the Main Street reconstruction and the sewer system. Main Street merchants need to have a voice.”
Business owners in the village have formed separate groups in the past, out of dissatisfaction with the chamber. The Westhampton Association of Merchants operated from 1996 to 2003 and was then shortly resuscitated as the Westhampton Alliance of Merchants, or WHAM, in 2009. That group has not been active in recent years, however.
Attorney Robert Santucci, who has a law firm on Mill Road and is a member of the chamber, said he attended last week’s gathering at the bakery out of curiosity.
“I was curious about the disconnect, wondering about the Main Street people’s gripes, and wanted to see how they planned to correct it,” he said on Monday. “I think they’re gonna take their grievances before the chamber,” he added, later noting that he is an active member of the community and has no personal issues with the chamber.
“I’m a lawyer, I really don’t use the chamber,” he added. “I’m just interested in the betterment of Westhampton Beach and Main Street. I don’t want tumbleweeds coming down Main Street.”
According to Ms. Richman, those who gathered last week have not yet decided how they will proceed, or if they will splinter from the chamber. She said they plan to meet again in another month or two for further discussion.
“The chamber was founded in 1948—it has a name and a reputation,” Ms. Richman said, explaining why some businesses want to stay with the institution. “But in the business community, there’s a disconnect.”