by CYRYL JAKUBOWSKI
Jennifer Herren Gatesman, North Edgebrook resident and longtime executive director of the Edgebrook-Sauganash Chamber of Commerce, is leaving the group to start as the new executive director of the Wilmette-Kenilworth Chamber of Commerce effective August 1.
Gatesman recently discussed his tenure with the chamber, the band’s greatest accomplishments, his trials and tribulations, and his love for the Edgebrook and Sauganash communities.
Gatesman started as Principal of the Sauganash Chamber in 2010 until it merged into the Edgebrook Chamber in 2017. She has been involved with the Edgebrook Community Association, Wildwood School PTA and Wildwood School LSC. She also had a 16-year career in various communications roles with United Airlines.
“I love community work and find it very rewarding and I love the chamber because I love business and I love helping people,” she said. Gatesman said her decision to take on the new role in the suburbs happened quickly because that chamber’s manager moved to another opportunity and recommended her.
She said businesses that become members of the region’s chambers of commerce can count on the groups to serve as cheerleaders and that it’s important for small businesses to have boosters so they can thrive.
“We are a small community (Edgebrook and Sauganash) that borders on the suburbs and trying to keep our economic purchasing power local is critical to avoid a slide to the suburbs and we like to keep our dollars in our community so that we let’s have a strong and vibrant business district that helps local schools, helps residents’ property values and helps business owners themselves put a big stake in the land by locating here,” Herren said. Gatesman.
For her, the most significant accomplishment with the Chamber came with the formation of Special Duty Area 62 in Sauganash. She said to date, the service area has generated $675,000 since its inception in 2014.
“This is an annual community improvement fund that business owners and landowners contribute to and an economic development organization can make improvements to streets in the neighborhood,” she said. declared.
She said the Sauganash Chamber has focused on beautification efforts, including helping install sculptures along Cicero Avenue, decorative benches from repurposed street banners, and with business marketing.
More recently, Herren Gatesman helped create the Edgebrook Beautification Committee.
“We were fortunate to have Alderman Nugent and Alderman Napolitano to contribute money for the beautification of Edgebrook,” she said. The group voted to install permanent community identification banners and other streetscape features not yet installed by the city.
“They were responsive and welcoming because I believe they really care about the business community and small businesses are the backbone of that community,” Gatesman said.
During the pandemic, she was truly impressed with how residents came together to support local businesses.
“We were very lucky compared to other communities that lost a significant number of businesses and we didn’t,” she said.
Gatesman said the most frustrating issue for the chamber during the pandemic was that Chicago had different rules than some suburbs and that created challenges.
“There were different phases and capacity limits for different businesses in the city that weren’t in the suburbs and it was more difficult because the city rules had to be uniform in a big, world-class city, so they don’t are not as flexible. or suitable for the business community in a border neighborhood,” Gatesman said.
She also recalled a tough time for businesses in the area as ongoing sewer reconstruction on Devon Avenue was ‘a big disruptor’.
“It was not only an economic blow to them, especially because people could bypass the north to avoid all this, but it was also an operational blow because the dust, dirt and grime that was thrown into their shops by work made the streets less attractive for foot traffic,” she said.
Social media has changed the business climate in a relatively short time. She said when she started 12 years ago with the chamber, many companies were just getting started with social media. And she said the chamber hosts “social pizza” events that teach business owners how to use social media to improve their businesses.
But despite starting a new job in the northern suburbs, she said she remains in the community and will miss the people and business connections she made.
“But I won’t stop shopping here and I will keep going into stores and supporting businesses because I really care,” she said.