The Chamber of Commerce’s Alter Ego
Watching portions of George H. W. Bush’s funeral and reading the commentary afterwards, I was struck by his son’s words about how his father taught him “How to be a president who leads with integrity and acts with his heart for the citizens of the country.”
In a December 6 Wall Street Journal essay, Gerald F. Seib wrote: “Throughout the ceremony, the subtext appeared to be a message to today’s practitioners of the political arts that it is possible to be, as Mr. Bush once said famously, ‘kinder and gentler,’ and to unite as well as divide.”
Having lived in Pacific Palisades since 1994, I am puzzled by the “new” Palisades Chamber of Commerce, which seems to be intent on dividing this community. Roughly, it can be described as the pre-Caruso era and the advent of Caruso’s Palisades Village.
It was no secret that after 20-year Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Arnie Wishnick announced his retirement early this year, the Chamber of Commerce executive board changed its constitution without alerting members and then wrote in the rules it was no longer necessary for members to approve it, as long as the executive board approved it.
It was also no secret that the Chamber office needed an upgrade and that Caruso paid $20,000 for the remodel and Reza Akef of Metro Capital Builders, who serves as a Chamber Board member, donated his time (as did fellow board member Richard Blumenberg, a local architect).
It was a semi-secret that the Chamber executive board had decided to cancel its traditional Holiday Ho!Ho!Ho! celebration (so as not to compete with Caruso’s tree-lighting event), which was first reported by Circling the News.
When a half-dozen residents proposed having a community-organized Holiday Hullabaloo (this coming Saturday), I urged one of the organizers to ask Caruso officials if these two holiday events could be combined—have the town come together.
Perhaps have Santa arrive on the fire truck for the night of the Caruso tree lighting and allow kids to sit with Santa and have their photo taken–for free, the first night, and then the Caruso Santa could take over (photos $45 and up).
I asked, why couldn’t Fancy Feet dancers, Gerry Blanck’s karate kids and the Oom PaPa Band all perform on a closed off street–and have various school choirs sing? We have so much magnificent talent in this town, we don’t need to bring in outside talent to perform.
And then what if the Chamber’s new Holiday Stroll in the business district also took place? What a magnificent coming together of the community and town it would be! It would be the first step in trying to unite the town, which remains divided by Caruso’s Palisades Village.
Although these joint festivities didn’t happen, I still make the plea for next year.
CTN participated in the Holiday Stroll, bringing friends to the event. We had fun going into the different stores. We had cheese, sandwiches, cookies and wine at different locations, and then turned in our stamped maps, and received lottery tickets. My friends even won $2 on their ticket.
CTN visited the Chamber office on Monday to get the winners, so I could write a story. Marilyn Crawford, president Bob Benton’s assistant, said they didn’t have the results. I left my email, so that Benton could send me the results.
On Wednesday morning at the Business Improvement District meeting, Nicole Howard (a past Chamber president and now a real estate agent) proclaimed the Stroll a success. She went on to say that she had chaired the Holiday Ho!Ho!Ho! but the event hadn’t been good for business.
Howard said that the dominant retailer on the Antioch block, Elyse Walker, had told her, “I’ll pay you not to do this [close off the street].” (Antioch was only closed for two years during Caruso construction, before then the event was held on Swarthmore.)
(Walker was contacted through spokesperson Alex Lippin, who told Circling the News in a December 5 email: “I just spoke with Elyse and she told me that she never made that statement. She loves the holidays, supports the community and is always advocating on behalf of the Chamber of Commerce and neighborhood initiatives.”)
At the Wednesday meeting, Howard was asked by CTN if the Chamber could send out a press release with the Stroll winners sooner, so we could report on it in a timely matter.
Caruso Senior VP Rick Lemmo (who is on the Chamber executive board as a special vice president of realignment, who sits on the BID board and who represents the Chamber on the Pacific Palisades Community Council), said that the results had gone to the Palisadian-Post and it would come out on Thursday.
“There was a magnificent brochure that went out to all the stores explaining the Stroll,” Lemmo said.
Chamber businesses had to pay $250 to participate.
“This was the next step of what the Chamber will do,” Lemmo said. “There were 20 businesses this year; likely the next year it will double.”
This reporter, who was now starting to feel like a disowned child, once again asked the Chamber for a Stroll press release. Benton was not in, but he later replied by email that Denise Carolyn had won for best tree and that Laura Armstrong had won $1,300 in gifts as winner of the drawing.
CTN asked if Armstrong was a resident and which businesses had contributed gifts but received no further response.
Here’s an idea: Why doesn’t the Chamber take a page out of former President George H. W. Bush’s life and work with the community? After all, the residents of this community are the ones who support the businesses.
As the 2008-09 recession unfolded, business after business closed in the Palisades and unfortunately, I was assigned by former Palisadian-Post Editor Bill Bruns to cover each one. It was sobering. Many people in the community no longer had disposable income to help keep stores alive.
Now, with online ordering and the Internet, stores might still be able to survive an economic downturn. But for those who have lived here as long as I have or longer, we still don’t understand why the Chamber doesn’t feel that the community plays a major role in supporting local businesses—or why the Chamber doesn’t want to support the community, too.
Sue, as usual, terrific. You could have blazed with anger but you kept it restrained and dignified. George HW is smiling down on you for following his good example.
Thanks for your terrific reporting.
Happy Chanukah and Merry Christmas!
Dear Sue, You softened my heart with this one! I hope I feel this way when Christmas shopping at the “new mall” begins to surge… This year, I’ve had to squint and wear sunglasses when I look in that direction (is that a good thing?) This may be an acid test for whether or not these exclusive shops will make it in a (+ or -) upper-middle class village. A true village, not a “!VILLAGE!”.
Dear Sue, your idea of combining Holiday HoHoHo and Caruso’s Tree Lighting onto one big celebration is right on the mark, uniting the entire community. United we stand; separate we lose that special “spirit” of the Town of Pacific Palisades!!