By Desirée Keegan
The North Shore is losing one of its most powerful lobbyists.
The North Brookhaven Chamber of Commerce announced its dismantling this month, as the result of president Jennifer Dzvonar stepping down. Currently no members or outside businesses leaders have stepped up to take her place.
Dzvonar did not return requests for comment, but Brookhaven Town Councilwoman Jane Bonner (C-Rocky Point), who represents the territory that’s home to most of the area businesses involved in the chamber, said she was shocked, but not surprised, knowing the Port Jefferson Station’s Bass Electric owner has a family of young children.
“It’s very time consuming,” Bonner said of being a chamber leader. “I’m surprised no one else stepped up to the plate, but I understand the quandary they’re in. Volunteerism on any level really, really does cut into your personal life. It’s a lot of balls to juggle and I know, because I’m a serial volunteer. I have a lot of respect for people who put their family first.”
Losing the 17-year-old business network, a local organization of businesses whose goal is to further the interests of businesses, means losing a go-to organization for new small businesses owners seeking help. The towns it covers also lose a local advocate fighting on behalf of the business community in the community it serves. It is not only a welcoming committee but it also helps promote business in the area. The dismembering of the chamber will result in less funding and support for tourism and trade, and the loss of a large scholarship program for local high school seniors — including those who reside in Wading River, Shoreham, Rocky Point, Sound Beach, Miller Place, Mount Sinai, Port Jefferson Station and Terryville.
“People will miss new business owners wanting to get involved with the chamber, not having a go-to person,” said Bonner, whose comments were also echoed by Councilwoman Valerie Cartright (D-Port Jefferson Station). “But as council people we will, as we always do, make our doors open to help with the process.”
The future of the train car
The breaking down of the North Brookhaven Chamber of Commerce leaves the future of the historic train car at Memorial American Flag Park on the corner of Route 112 and Route 347 in Port Jefferson Station in question, but executive director Mike Poveromo said residents needn’t worry.
Despite the dismantling of the chamber, Poveromo, although he refrained from providing specific details just yet, said a Port Jefferson Station-Terryville Chamber of Commerce will be emerging, and taking with it, the responsibility of using dues to pay for what was once the chamber of commerce’s office.
“The train is one of the first electric trains and one of the two remaining of its model on Long Island,” Poveromo said. “The train car is a 1914 baggage/passenger car, that was in use from Jamaica Station to Grand Central Station. In my opinion, it is not only a chamber office, it is a community landmark.”
At the park is also a 20-feet wide, by 30-feet long American flag. A remembrance piece from the World Trade Center is also encompassed into the foundation circle.
“The picnic tables provide visitors and residents the opportunity to enjoy the area when taking a break when shopping, driving and visiting our area,” he said. “I am not concerned when the north Brookhaven chamber closes, since a new chamber is being formed, and will continue its ongoing effort in this respect.”
Mike Poveromo, general manager of Family Times Event Rentals in Mount Sinai and executive director of the chamber, said he knows a thing or two about how demanding the position can be. He joined the then-Miller Place-Mount Sinai Chamber, a small group of 30 local merchants, and eventually moved from membership director to president in 1997. He then served as president of the Council of Dedicated Merchants Chamber of Commerce from 1998 to 2004, which is when the chamber grew to include Sound Beach and Rocky Point. His business was also active in the Port Jefferson Station and Shoreham/Wading River chambers.
“Some of the first local merchants who welcomed me, like Mike Allen of Janitorial Plus and Paul Houghton of Miller Place Sea Food made a lasting impression,” Poveromo said. “They convinced me to become the volunteer membership director. But being a volunteer officer or director of any chamber of commerce is a demanding undertaking, especially in this time in history when both residents and business owners feel they do not have enough time in their day for personal, meaningful and beneficial relationships.”
The executive director recalled what to him was the first significant program established to connect business owners with the community — the Music and Arts Festival at Mount Sinai’s Cedar Beach. It was also the place to raise funds to support the scholarship.
“The chamber membership grew quickly, the business and residential community grew rapidly once the four-lane highway was in place [on 25A],” Poveromo said.
Poveromo said he is worried about the future of the area businesses.
“The days of when your doctor knew you, your whole family, your pharmacist helped you personally, your local butcher, baker and dentist that had your family covered is gone,” he said. “Today it is all about fast food, cheap service and instant gratification.”
He said he feels the dismantling of the chamber is a huge mistake.
“I cannot answer the question of why no member business owner or director hasn’t stepped up to the plate to bring the NBCOC into the future, but it could be they feel they could not afford to volunteer their personal time and expertise away from their business and family,” he said. “With no serious candidate willing to take over, I understand and support the chamber’s decision to dismantle, and this will open up new opportunities for individual town business leaders to open a chamber of commerce and promote their community as a great place to live, work, raise a family and open a business.”
Currently, a Port Jefferson Station-Terryville Chamber of Commerce is in the works, but no merchants have stepped up to fill the void in the other hamlets.
“It is a loss to hometown recognition for small businesses embedded for years in the fabric of the community they serve,” Poveromo said. “Today’s new small business start-ups must find innovative ways and the means to become part of the community fabric. They are choosing to open and invest their time, money and talents in the American dream, and the chamber of commerce is a great resource. New chamber leaders must find solutions to show and prove to residents the value of shopping locally at small business locations where owners are making a direct investment in the towns they chose to open a business.”