The City of Oakley put on a magnificent inaugural Heart of Oakley Festival on Saturday where thousands came to the downtown area. While the event was considered a huge success, Oakley’s staff gets a round of applause after the Chamber of Commerce actually walked away from the event just six-weeks prior.
According to multiple city sources, they confirmed that the City was left in charge of the planning after the Chamber had been promoting the event since January.
City had just two options, cancel it. Or, move forward and take over all responsibilities. Thankfully, the City had the foresight to see the potential whereas the Chamber did not.
From what we have been told, the following city staff took the lead on picking up the slack after the chamber bailed on the event:
- Cecilia Nichols Fritzler, Economic Development
- Lindsey Bruno, Recreation Supervisor
- Cindy Coelho, Creation Technician
- Bryan Montgomery, City Manager
In fact, the Chamber even downplayed the event on their website saying the City of Oakley wanted to scale back the festival and that the reconfigured festival attendance was estimated at 600 people—it appears the Chamber pulled out of the event because they would not sell enough alcohol due to the amount of kids present and could not afford the $1,000 permit fee.
For the record, attendance was probably five-times the chambers estimate. Doing some math, the city sold out of 300 wine glasses at $5 a pop plus all the tickets old.
Since the City of Oakley is not allowed to purchase an alcohol permit, the Friends of Oakley stepped up and purchased the permit—imagine a heart of Oakley festival that had been promoted for a year without any wine? Yikes!
Truth be told, a $1,000 donation for the permit in exchange for business promotion was doable with some effort. Multiple fundraisers for the sole purpose of the permit cost were an easy solution as there was no way money would have been lost on the permit.
Instead, the Chamber saw dollar signs and not the benefits of raising Oakley’s overall profile.
Ultimately, it comes down to lack of vision by the Chamber leadership who believed the event would flub. In a way, their letter (shown in its entirety below) came across as negative and almost written as a form of sabotage since they no longer were tasked with the planning of the event—this coming after a year of promoting the event.
No doubt the Chamber made a bad choice in withdrawing from the event, however, the positive is it gave others a chance to shine while downtown businesses saw a fantastic bump in exposure—from La Costa to Carpaccio’s to the Republic of Cake and the Mayor Wife having a very successful grand showing of her candles. The event did what it was supposed to do which is promote Oakley and its businesses—something the Chamber failed to do.
By pulling out and instead only having a booth, it really doesn’t say much about their support of local business, promotion of business, or investing back into the community because they did not put their money where their mouths had been all year.
In fact, it’s reflective of how the Chamber itself is not being able to grow or see potential opportunities for growth to become relevant in East County business discussions.
The sad part in all of this is how can the City of Oakley take the Chamber seriously going forward given the fact the Chamber left the City on the hook for an event? The real question is why would the City want to work with the chamber given the track record of bailing on events?
This fiasco highlights poor leadership and a lack of vision by the Oakley Chamber. More importantly, if the Chamber wants a grand event, it should start modest and build itself up. Oakley ended up working hard to put on a modest event—but it worked beautifully.
The Chambers short sidedness in the decision to pull out gave the City of Oakley and opportunity to shine—and shine they did—and they should feel good about the event. Meanwhile, I would like to think the Chamber feels some regret for their poor decision.
For the record, I am not against the Chamber or any Chamber, but this is a case of the Chamber not willing to put in the effort to raise funds for an event nor put in the effort to help themselves grow. When the Antioch and Brentwood Chambers put on events, they go all out to fundraise and they look at the big picture, not dollar signs of a single event—see no further example than CornFest.
Relating it back to Oakley, La Costa and Republic of Cake for example made the investment on spending money on free food/samples in order to get future customers hooked—the Chamber had the same opportunity in term of membership and failed to see that this event would actually increase their membership if they put their name on it. It could have catapulted them into growth; instead, the City gets the kudos.
As for the local business that did step up and many vendors who participated we tip our hats to you.
The reality is nothing has changed in the Oakley Chamber of Commerce since the launch of their website which is nothing more than a placeholder for businesses to put in information that few people view.
With 2014 approaching, Oakley Chamber Members must where their membership fees are going because as we see it, there is no value other than social gatherings with low attendance.
At this time, a better investment for Oakley business may be to go to the Antioch or Brentwood Chambers for a return on their investment. Or, they can begin putting their Chamber Membership fees into their own advertising campaigns.
It pains me to say that the Oakley Chamber of Commerce really is still the Chamber of No Commerce as its track record of walking away from events continues.
Remember, this is the same organization that cancelled the Almond Festival, its Citizen of the Year Dinner, its Poker Fundraiser and now the Heart of Oakley Festival.
What will they walk away from next?
By Michael Burkholder
Oakley Chamber Of Commerce Letter
The Oakley Chamber would like to invite Chamber members and Oakley businesses to join us in our booth at the inaugural Heart of Oakley festival on September 14th. The festival is meant in part to celebrate the new construction downtown (there will be a ribbon cutting at the fountain in Oakley Plaza at 11:00 a.m.), and we would like it to be an occasion for all of Oakley’s businesses to show residents and visitors what they have to offer.
To join us, do the following:
- Keep an eye out for the invitation to contribute a coupon to the new Shop Oakley First book. This may come from the Chamber or directly from the City of Oakley.
- If you haven’t reserved a booth of your own and would like to share our booth for two hours, sign up for a slot by calling office manager Lynn Stahli at (925) 625-1035. You can bring any promotional materials you want. Assume that no electricity will be available. Spaces are filling up fast, so hurry.
Both members of the Recreation Division and representatives of the Chamber of Commerce embraced a vision of this festival as Oakley’s equivalent of Pittsburg’s Seafood Festival or Bethel Island’s Fifties Bash, closing Main Street for several blocks. With that in mind, the Chamber had initially planned to set up a beer and wine garden offering wines made from Oakley grapes. We liked the idea of drawing more attention to prize-winning local wines and to the grape growers–and the fundraising potential that selling alcohol at an event the size of Cityhood offered didn’t hurt, either.
As the event grew closer, however, with the status of the downtown construction unclear, the City decided it would be prudent to scale the event back and not try to be too ambitious in the first year. Main Street will now be closed from Vintage Parkway to Norcross. Vendor booths (approximately 30 of them) will be located along Main Street. Children’s activities will take place in the City Hall parking lot. There will be local entertainment, and a movie in the park at 8 PM. You, Me, We Oakley is planning to provide some cultural displays or activities relating to the different ethnic groups who live in the city.
We believe this will be an enjoyable event for Oakley’s citizens and we hope to help make it a useful event for those who own businesses here by providing an you opportunity to advertise even if your business is not located in Oakley Plaza.
Unfortunately, the projected attendance for the reconfigured festival is approximately 600 people–of whom at least half will be children. (This is Oakley.) Likely half of the others would be designated drivers or otherwise non-drinkers. That would leave a very small pool of possible alcohol purchasers. The insurance alone for the sale of alcohol would cost the Chamber $1000. Even if wineries were willing to donate all of the wine, we would almost certainly lose money.
If ours were a wealthy Chamber, with a large financial cushion, we might opt to do the wine sales anyway, in order to set things up for the future and to promote Oakley’s grape growers. But we have not had large-scale success at fund-raising this year, so we cannot afford to make such gestures. The only prudent fiscal course for the Chamber as a business is to change the type of booth we rent. Therefore we will be providing information about the Chamber and its services; maps of Oakley; water and soda; historic Chamber T-shirts; “Shop Oakley First” coupons; and space for our members to advertise.
The mission of a chamber of commerce is twofold: first, to support, promote, and advocate for local small businesses; and secondly, to promote the city in which they are based as a place to visit or live. The Oakley Chamber wishes to use its presence at this event to support its member businesses as much as possible. We also want to help show off Oakley’s new downtown and promote this city to our friends and family members around and beyond Contra Costa County.
So we’d like to encourage you not only to attend yourself, but to print up some of these flyers (click the image to download a printable PDF) and distribute them. Invite some houseguests for the weekend. Join us and make this event a success for everyone.