Rewind the clock back 100 years and imagine milk delivered by the local Barrett Creamery and libations at Wright’s Tavern, where the Silverthorne stands. Zeager’s — by what is now Stadler’s Jewelers — was a general store stocked with staples, from pantry items to hardware goods. Hogg Brothers Coal, Flour and Feed offered necessities to keep the home fires burning. And, fertile soil throughout the community translated to greenhouses.
“For many years we had an agricultural economy,” says Mayor Pamela Bobst, reflecting on historical accounts of the city’s business community.
This year, the Rocky River Chamber of Commerce celebrates its centennial — a significant milestone for an organization that has grown to more than 400 members and continues to represent a diverse, committed group of entrepreneurs.
“Our businesses play an important role in supporting community members, providing goods and services to residents, and they have a long history of volunteerism and philanthropy,” Bobst says, relating how the chamber supports city initiatives, from planting flowers to beach cleanups.
Chamber members fuel the city’s economic engine, and Rocky River has a legacy of supporting its local businesses.
“Strength in numbers does not come easy, without each member doing their part,” points out Alan Rego, owner of Lake Road Market. “The vibrant support from our community would not be possible without such a great organization.”
A longtime member, Rego has watched the chamber grow and thrive. Lake Road Market is located along a historic artery of Rocky River, so he has seen the community evolve while maintaining its roots and traditions.
“It’s amazing to see the transformation over the years,” he says, adding that the business community has progressed to meet the community’s needs. “Today, the chamber is stronger than ever.”
The yearlong centennial celebration kicked off with a Roaring Twenties soiree at the Cleveland Yachting Club on Feb. 25. The anniversary of the chamber’s founding in 1922 is Feb. 27. “We took it back to where it began,” says Angela Barth, executive director for the Rocky River Chamber of Commerce.
From 1920s dress to music, dancing and sharing photographs and historic memorabilia, “We embraced our history,” Barth says. A life-sized (not edible) cake commemorating the milestone features 100 candles sponsored by members. “The cake will go out and about with us all year long, showing those members’ commitment to the organization and helping us celebrate as a beautiful visual for our anniversary.”
The chamber has been collecting mementos for a time capsule — industry information, menus, storefront pictures, swag and even masks with companies’ logos.
“That way, we’ll really have a glimpse of what it was like when we turned 100,” Barth says. A time capsule dedication and celebratory happy hour took place May 11 at Behind the Woods, a longtime chamber member. The time capsule will be sealed and stored for 25 years.
Throughout the year, traditional chamber events will have a centennial twist. The Taste of River will take to the streets on June 25 as a communitywide festival. Planting day will include creating a centennial garden at Elmwood Park. Monthly luncheons highlight special speakers.
All the while, members share memories of the first business expo or chamber holiday parties in the early days. “The chamber always has been and is a part of many of our traditions — and we are a community that loves its traditions,” Bobst says. “We love gatherings at Christmas, the Easter egg hunt, Festival of the Trees, Taste of River and now, Strengthening Our Roots, which includes a big cleanup and planting in an area of the city
The city’s All Aglow Tree Lighting includes Chamber Lights, where businesses sponsor and decorate balled-and-burlapped trees for the city hall campus. After the holiday display, the trees are replanted throughout the community for
As for trees, some longtime community members recall bonfires held in what is now the Whole Foods parking lot. Before the site was developed into a shopping center in the 1950s, there were sand pits.
“A huge tradition was the Christmas tree burning gathering that was sponsored by the Chamber of Commerce,” Bobst relates. “Everyone would bring their spent Christmas tree to the sand pits, and residents who have been here for many years and grew up here remember those bonfires as children and what great fun it was.”
Rego adds, “Over the years, chamber events have always made a lasting impression. From start to finish, whether it’s a social event or scheduled chamber event, everything always runs smoothly and is fun to be a part of.”
Most of the chamber’s traditions are tied to a purpose and involve community service. For example, members volunteer for biweekly beach cleanups.“ We do our best to give back all that we receive, so getting our members involved hands-on in beautifying the community and helping us maintain our city is really important,” Barth says. “We make it a priority to be active and engaged with the city and integrated with their projects.”
Civic engagement is a founding tenant of the chamber, points out Christopher Klym, the organization’s board chair, a longtime Rocky River resident and partner in Huffman, Hunt & Klym. “Our businesses are just as much members of the community as we are as individuals, and we have a responsibility to give back,” he says. “Civic involvement is a wonderful way for outreach in a collaborative, authentic way. We get to know each other and we are part of each other’s lives.”
It’s an example of how the community comes together in many ways, Klym adds. “It shows how much we care about the community, and we are all working to serve the community the best we can.”
So Much Support
Business owners from across the region have chosen Rocky River as a home base for business. Many owners live in River, but some come from the East Side, Akron, Canton and west into Lorain County. “It’s so great to see the impact we have on Northeast Ohio,” Barth says.
Bobst adds, “In 100 years, members have made an effort to be part of the fabric of the community and to really assist one another.”
Rob and Renee Grendow, owners of Danny Boy’s, live in Rocky River and opened their business in town 30 years ago. “The city of Rocky River, chamber and community have been with us every step of the way, through the very early, tough years when we didn’t know much at all through the long construction closure of Lake Road and certainly during the pandemic,” Rob Grendow says. “The support we received was phenomenal.”
The chamber has supported Danny Boy’s milestones, too. “In fact, the community helped us name our children and guess their weights in a baby contest,” Grendow says, describing a banner they hung outside the restaurant that read, “It’s a waiter!” when their son, Camden, was born and, “It’s a waitress!” for their daughter, Chase. Both attended River schools and today they work at the business.
“In this world we live in now, we feel so lucky to have so much support and goodwill in the community and through the chamber,” Grendow says.
Bobst calls the chamber “an important clearinghouse and conduit for the exchange of information.” Case in point: During the pandemic, the chamber helped connect members to programs through the state and other agencies.
“If businesses didn’t have a strong and engaged chamber, they might not be aware of some of these important resources, whether to help businesses expand, provide regulatory information, workforce development — all of these things are critical to retaining and growing businesses,” she says.
Businesses came together during the pandemic — and have joined forces throughout history to weather tough times. At the onset of COVID-19 when many businesses were temporarily shut down, they found creative ways to help each other and to serve residents. Lake Road Market, Danny Boy’s and Gourmet Guy’s offered meal giveaways to literally “feed support” to those who had been loyal to their businesses. Community members also donated to the cause. About 900 people showed up for the free meal night and received takeout chicken paprikash, broccoli and pizzas.
The chamber supported businesses by purchasing gift cards and raffling them to residents who ate local and uploaded receipts for a chance to win. And even during a stressful time, new businesses were opening in Rocky River, Barth points out.
Bobst points interested businesses
that are exploring Rocky River as a
location to the chamber. “Businesses settle here, and they can thrive and grow here with the support,” she says, adding
that members have a “direct and significant impact on our local economy.”
“Small businesses are not only important to a local community, but they are important to our nation’s economy,” Bobst adds. “About half of the nation’s workforce is employed by small businesses, and 60% to 65% of new jobs are created by small business.”
The diversity of businesses in River is also an asset to the economy. “That’s one reason why we have stability,” Bobst says.
From clothing to dining, health care to professional services, retail to recreation — Rocky River’s portfolio of businesses runs the gamut. “There is a great deal of loyalty in our community on behalf of residents for our local businesses,” Bobst adds. “They understand the importance of frequenting our local businesses and being patrons.”
Paul Gorton, owner of Ford’s Clothier, says generations of residents have shopped at the store, which has been open for 109 years and more than 60 years in Rocky River. “A big thank you,” he says, noting that loyal business and community members are part of the store’s success. The centennial anniversary is “an accomplishment,” he adds.
Loyalty goes beyond “buy local,” Klym says. “We get to know the owners of our businesses and that’s what makes a community.”
A Caring Community
Rocky River has a rich history of caring for the community. “We have been able to make valuable connections through the Chamber’s network to help us on the business front — whether for banking or legal needs — and also on the personal side,” says Matt Miller, store manager of the Rocky River Century Cycles.
“If you think about it, there aren’t a lot of buildings that stand for 100 years, and you take a group of people and businesses with similar interests that have been going strong for a century, that’s fantastic — and there is no doubt it will continue,” Miller says.
The Welsh Home is sharing a centennial year with the Rocky River Chamber of Commerce. The site was formerly the Higley Farm, and the original home there was described as “having nine bedrooms, two living rooms, five bathrooms as well as six cows, calves, a bull and a house with an orchard and a garden.” One-hundred years later, the continuum of care community offering assisted living, skilled nursing, rehabilitation and long-term care still provides a home-like environment.
“Taking care of the community is our business,” says Sarah Koch, LNHA, executive director, The Welsh Home. “The residents of the Welsh Home are the residents of Rocky River. The employees are residents, and the families of our residents also live here. It’s a wonderful circle we are honored to be a part of.”
For 100 years, the Welsh Home has owned the same property that is now a central commercial district encircled by neighborhoods. Sharing a Chamber memory, Koch recalls when she attended a luncheon eight years ago when Mayor Bobst delivered a state of the city. “I knew I wanted to reinvent my career at The Welsh Home, and it sparked the idea of me moving to Rocky River,” Koch says.
For many, it’s a merging of business, pleasure, family and fun. And, importantly, support to make a dream come to life and create a legacy.
“When you support our businesses, you’re helping them realize the American Dream,” Bobst says. “I can’t imagine anything more worthy of our attention and support than helping someone realize their dream.”