August 31, 1997 in Nation/World

Rebirth At 100 Chamber Reaches Milestone, Looks Ahead To The Next Century

By The Spokesman-Review
 

The new Spokane Regional Business Center will have all the sizzle and excitement of a high-tech science center exhibit.

A bank of TV sets, interactive kiosks linking people to Internet websites, and possibly a hologram display of Spokane will dazzle visitors learning about the region.

“We’re trying to have this space sell people, and in part, sell local people on their own community,” said Rich Hadley, president of the Spokane Area Chamber of Commerce. “We want them to go, ‘Wow.”’

The business center, owned by the chamber, also will house the Spokane Area Convention and Visitors Bureau and Economic Development Council.

Collaboration and co-location are where the chamber is headed, and that’s not far off track from where it began 100 years ago.

This weekend marks the 100th anniversary of the Chamber’s formation. On Aug. 30, 1897, local businessmen gathered to form the chamber, where together they could make business decisions they thought would be good for the community.

The following day, officers were elected. Twenty of the 26 people voting selected Mayor E.D. Olmsted as president, though he didn’t want the office, according to a Sept. 1, 1897, Spokane Chronicle article.

Despite his reluctance, Olmsted graciously accepted and served as president until January 1902. A board of trustees comprising 16 local businessmen also was selected.

Joining the chamber cost $20 per year in 1897, and new members had to be sponsored by existing members and approved by a membership committee.

Today the chamber has 2,200 members and annual fees, starting at $280, are based on the number of employees. About 80 percent of the membership is companies with 25 or fewer employees.

The first chamber was housed on the first floor of the old City Hall building, and, after a series of moves, relocated to its current location at 1020 W. Riverside in 1931.

As the chamber has grown, so has its inclusiveness. Committees focusing on everything from small business to international trade draw members together to brainstorm and learn from each other.

Still, it took the chamber 98 years to elect its first chairwoman, Chris Schnug, who served during the 1995-1996 term.

Despite growth and change, the chamber’s original goals have basically remained the same.

The founding members’ objective was to “concentrate their judgment and influence in forwarding such movements as shall tend toward the upbuilding and prosperity of the city of Spokane …,” according to the original mission statement.

Today, the chamber’s more succinctly-stated goal conveys the same message: “To provide leadership to create an environment in which our members, business and the community can succeed.”

The joining of the minds of area businesspeople has been instrumental in bringing change and growth to this region for 100 years.

The chamber’s involvement helped build the Grand Coulee Dam, Fairchild Air Force Base and Spokane International Airport. Dreams about what downtown Spokane could be led the chamber to push for a world’s fair. That dream came true in 1974.

In 1987, a chamber planning retreat gave birth to Momentum, an organization devoted to raising money for business and job recruitment in hopes of lifting Spokane out of economic doldrums.

Those activities have helped earn Spokane’s chamber national recognition.

“The Spokane Chamber is very much at the forefront,” said Meg Jacobsen, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s executive director for the Western region. “Early on they established a role for themselves as really being a leadership organization, rather than being a booster-and-festival oriented group.

“There are not a lot of chambers in the same category in my region, and that’s 11 Western states, so it’s not small potatoes,” Jacobsen said.

“They’re a standout.”

When the Columbia Basin irrigation project served up the first water in 1948, it was largely the result of a 30-year effort by Spokane businesspeople.

In 1918 and 1919, the chamber began a campaign to build what became Grand Coulee Dam, aimed at irrigating basin farmlands.

The chamber raised promotional funds for the campaign from area businesspeople and sent delegations of businessmen to lobby Congress.

In 1928, funding was secured from Congress for a survey by the Bureau of Reclamation and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which led to the building of the dam.

Lorin Markham, who served as chamber president from 1952 to 1969, said even after the dam was built and the irrigation program established, funding was not a sure thing.

“The program was there, but getting the appropriations was a matter of politics,” said Markham, now 95. “We were one of many political groups that supported it. We can’t take total credit.”

In 1940, the chamber established a full-time office in Washington, D.C., to push both for Grand Coulee Dam and establishing an Army Air Corps Depot (which became Fairchild Air Force Base) on the West Plains.

Building Fairchild began as a war-time effort, said George Reitemeier, chamber president from 1970 to 1993.

In 1941, the chamber raised more than $140,000 to buy land for the base, which was given to the Air Force.

“They said, ‘Let’s make sure we’re a part of this whole effort,”’ Reitemeier said.

In 1958, the chamber again raised money to purchase a portion of Clear Lake for recreational use by Air Force members and their families. In 1966, the chamber was instrumental in securing the U.S. Air Force Survival School when the base housing it closed in Nevada.

Helping to protect Fairchild from round after round of base closures became almost a full-time effort for chamber members in the 1990s.

“We had to hustle like all get out to justify that Fairchild had a significant mission,” said David Shea, last year’s chamber chairman. “Fairchild’s importance to the community can’t be underscored.”

The chamber also has assisted in developing the region’s airports - Felts Field in the 1920s, and Spokane International Airport in the 1960s.

Shortly after Markham took over in 1952, the chamber began to push for the building of a new airport terminal in the late 1950s. Proponents faced strong resistance to expanding the airport from the railroad companies, who didn’t want the passenger transportation competition, Markham said.

“It was difficult because fighting the railroads in Spokane was like throwing rocks at Santa Claus,” he said. “We were such a strong railroad town.”

In 1958, voters defeated a $4.2 million bond issue to build a new terminal. They also shot down a second effort in 1962, for $3.5 million.

The project finally was financed with $2.5 million in revenue bonds, floated by Spokane County. Other contributions came from the city, county and federal governments.

Another major obstacle to the growth of the airport was taken on by the chamber later in the 1960s, Markham recalled. Many of the flights coming to Spokane had to stop in Pendleton, Ore., because it was deemed unsafe to fly farther, even as airplanes’ fuel capacity increased.

“We finally got that restriction lifted,” Markham said. “Can you imagine flying to Seattle or San Francisco and having to land in Pendleton first? It doesn’t make sense, does it?”

The airport has continued to grow and expand, adding carriers and destinations. About 1.7 million passengers have passed through the airport so far in 1997.

Throughout the years, the chamber has continued to partner with the city and county to achieve goals it deemed important to the economic growth of the region.

“One of the reasons Spokane stands out is there’s a lot of talk about regionalism, having a reach beyond city boundaries,” Jacobsen said. “Spokane has certainly done that.”

Two other economic development organizations, the EDC and CVB, both were started as committees of the chamber in the 1980s, as was the Greater Spokane Sports Association. All three now have separate offices, staffs and budgets.

“The chamber always brought people together, to start new organizations,” Hadley said. “We’re a place where business gets together.”

Beginning in November, the chamber, EDC and CVB will move into their new building together, to present a cohesive economic development front to Spokane, the region and beyond.

When the move is made, in celebration of the 100th anniversary, chamber members and officials will parade down Riverside from the current location to their new building at 801 W. Riverside.

Then they’ll prepare to begin the next 100 years. , DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: 8 Photos; Graphic: Spokane Area Chamber of Commerce celebrates 100th anniversary

MEMO: These 4 sidebars appeared with the story:

1. CHAMBER PIONEERS These 14 businesses are original Chamber of Commerce members and still exist in Spokane today, without having made a major name or ownership change. Anthony, Baker and Burns F.S. Barrett and Co. Burgan’s Furniture Cowles Publishing Co. Deaconess Hospital Dodson’s Jewelers Gonzaga University Greenwood/Fairmount Memorial Parks Jensen Byrd Co. Paine, Hamblen, Coffin, Brooke and Miller Pacific Steel/Hide/Recycling Sacred Heart Hospital Washington Water Power Co. Witherspoon, Kelley Davenport and Toole

2. DODSON’S JEWELERS BUILDS ON 110 YEARS OF TRADITION Dodson’s Jewelers began in 1887 when George R. Dodson arrived by train in Spokane from Decatur, Ill. His son-in-law, John Penn Fix, eventually succeeded him as general manager. “My grandfather basically married the boss’s daughter,” said John Penn Fix III, co-owner of today’s Dodson’s Jewelers. The business survived two fires, the great fire of 1889 and another, in 1913, which claimed the company’s home at 517 W. Riverside. Dodson’s helped rebuild that building, which became the Mohawk Building, and remained there until 1987, when it moved across the street to its current location at 516 W. Riverside. In the 1920s and 1930s, Dodson’s diversified, expanding from jewelry to include china and fine gifts. The business today has continued that trend, most recently adding the Tiffany line of jewelry and gifts last year. Dodson’s built up its number of stores to a peak of six, but has cut back to three. The company had stores in Coeur d’Alene, Moscow, the Tri-Cities, University City Shopping Center, NorthTown Mall and downtown. The NorthTown, U-City and Tri-Cities stores eventually were closed. “We still carry fine gifts and do well with jewelry, much like my great-grandfather built his trade,” Fix said. -Alison Boggs

3. BURGAN’S FURNITURE EVOLVED FROM CHAIN OF 46 SMALL GROCERY STORES Burgan’s Furniture was formed in 1890 as a general merchandise store by E.S. Burgan. The grandfather of the current owners, Rich and Bruce McEachran, had been a business partner of Burgan’s and eventually took over the business. Burgan’s catered to the outlying community, selling everything from seed and feed to clothing. The company eventually changed its focus solely to groceries and grew to 46 small stores, reaching as far as Pullman, Moscow, Lewiston and Sandpoint. In the early 1950s, under pressure from bigger grocery chains, Burgan’s changed to furniture and sold its remaining grocery stores, retaining only its property at Division and Desmet, where it remains today. The company owns the entire block, from Ruby to Division and Desmet to Boone, employing 42 people. “When you have a family-owned business,” said Burgan’s vice president Bruce McEachran, “it’s your name. We’re concerned with the bottom line, but we also realize the community is why we’re here and what’s kept us here. When we make decisions, we think of the community and our customer first.” -Alison Boggs

4. JENSEN HEIRS REMAIN AT THE HELM OF NAMESAKE HARDWARE DISTRIBUTOR Jensen-Byrd Co., a wholesale hardware distributor, was founded by O.C. Jensen in 1883 in Washington’s Sprague territory. Jensen and Charles King organized Jensen-King Co., eventually moving to Spokane and merging with Wolverton-Byrd Co. Jensen-King-Byrd Co. originated in the Temple Court Building, then moved to its current location at 314 W. Riverside. O.C. Jensen’s sons, Scott and Alvin, bought out King in the 1920s, and Byrd in the 1930s. In 1958, the company bought the Spokane branch of Marshall Wells Co., the nation’s largest hardware wholesaler. Shortly after, Jensen-Byrd quit retail, focusing solely on its wholesale business. In 1981, the company purchased the inventory of Pacific Marine Schwabacher in Seattle, adding six states, including Alaska, to its service area. “That really launched us into the West Coast,” said Mike Jensen, great-grandson of O.C. Jensen, and president of Jensen Distribution Services today. “You see a lot of family-run businesses where one generation drops the ball. That hasn’t been the case for us,” Mike Jensen said. “We’ve all been very dedicated. It’s more than just an investment for our family.” -Alison Boggs

These 4 sidebars appeared with the story:

1. CHAMBER PIONEERS These 14 businesses are original Chamber of Commerce members and still exist in Spokane today, without having made a major name or ownership change. Anthony, Baker and Burns F.S. Barrett and Co. Burgan’s Furniture Cowles Publishing Co. Deaconess Hospital Dodson’s Jewelers Gonzaga University Greenwood/Fairmount Memorial Parks Jensen Byrd Co. Paine, Hamblen, Coffin, Brooke and Miller Pacific Steel/Hide/Recycling Sacred Heart Hospital Washington Water Power Co. Witherspoon, Kelley Davenport and Toole

2. DODSON’S JEWELERS BUILDS ON 110 YEARS OF TRADITION Dodson’s Jewelers began in 1887 when George R. Dodson arrived by train in Spokane from Decatur, Ill. His son-in-law, John Penn Fix, eventually succeeded him as general manager. “My grandfather basically married the boss’s daughter,” said John Penn Fix III, co-owner of today’s Dodson’s Jewelers. The business survived two fires, the great fire of 1889 and another, in 1913, which claimed the company’s home at 517 W. Riverside. Dodson’s helped rebuild that building, which became the Mohawk Building, and remained there until 1987, when it moved across the street to its current location at 516 W. Riverside. In the 1920s and 1930s, Dodson’s diversified, expanding from jewelry to include china and fine gifts. The business today has continued that trend, most recently adding the Tiffany line of jewelry and gifts last year. Dodson’s built up its number of stores to a peak of six, but has cut back to three. The company had stores in Coeur d’Alene, Moscow, the Tri-Cities, University City Shopping Center, NorthTown Mall and downtown. The NorthTown, U-City and Tri-Cities stores eventually were closed. “We still carry fine gifts and do well with jewelry, much like my great-grandfather built his trade,” Fix said. -Alison Boggs

3. BURGAN’S FURNITURE EVOLVED FROM CHAIN OF 46 SMALL GROCERY STORES Burgan’s Furniture was formed in 1890 as a general merchandise store by E.S. Burgan. The grandfather of the current owners, Rich and Bruce McEachran, had been a business partner of Burgan’s and eventually took over the business. Burgan’s catered to the outlying community, selling everything from seed and feed to clothing. The company eventually changed its focus solely to groceries and grew to 46 small stores, reaching as far as Pullman, Moscow, Lewiston and Sandpoint. In the early 1950s, under pressure from bigger grocery chains, Burgan’s changed to furniture and sold its remaining grocery stores, retaining only its property at Division and Desmet, where it remains today. The company owns the entire block, from Ruby to Division and Desmet to Boone, employing 42 people. “When you have a family-owned business,” said Burgan’s vice president Bruce McEachran, “it’s your name. We’re concerned with the bottom line, but we also realize the community is why we’re here and what’s kept us here. When we make decisions, we think of the community and our customer first.” -Alison Boggs

4. JENSEN HEIRS REMAIN AT THE HELM OF NAMESAKE HARDWARE DISTRIBUTOR Jensen-Byrd Co., a wholesale hardware distributor, was founded by O.C. Jensen in 1883 in Washington’s Sprague territory. Jensen and Charles King organized Jensen-King Co., eventually moving to Spokane and merging with Wolverton-Byrd Co. Jensen-King-Byrd Co. originated in the Temple Court Building, then moved to its current location at 314 W. Riverside. O.C. Jensen’s sons, Scott and Alvin, bought out King in the 1920s, and Byrd in the 1930s. In 1958, the company bought the Spokane branch of Marshall Wells Co., the nation’s largest hardware wholesaler. Shortly after, Jensen-Byrd quit retail, focusing solely on its wholesale business. In 1981, the company purchased the inventory of Pacific Marine Schwabacher in Seattle, adding six states, including Alaska, to its service area. “That really launched us into the West Coast,” said Mike Jensen, great-grandson of O.C. Jensen, and president of Jensen Distribution Services today. “You see a lot of family-run businesses where one generation drops the ball. That hasn’t been the case for us,” Mike Jensen said. “We’ve all been very dedicated. It’s more than just an investment for our family.” -Alison Boggs

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