JEFFERSON PARK — The new leadership of the Jefferson Park Chamber of Commerce will focus its attention on filling the empty storefronts that pockmark the business district, officials said.
The chamber will usher in new leadership in January after Amie Zander takes over as the full-time executive director of the Jefferson Park chamber after 10 years at the helm of the West Ridge Chamber of Commerce.
Zander and Lionel Rabb, the newly elected president of the chamber's board, said they will set a more active course for the chamber, which has been criticized for not doing enough to attract new business to Jefferson Park or to help those already open thrive.
The chamber will take a "more strategic and professional" approach to helping businesses in Jefferson Park, which stretches from Montrose to Foster avenues and from Cicero to Austin avenues, Rabb said.
Zander, 37, a lifelong Jefferson Park resident, is a "powerhouse" who will bring an "abundance of energy" to the chamber, Rabb said.
"Zander is the best of both worlds," Rabb said. "She's a Jefferson Park resident who wants to use her expertise to help the neighborhood. It will be night and day once she takes over full time."
The mother of a 3-year-old and a 3-month-old, Zander said she was thrilled to be doing the work she loves in the neighborhood where she has chosen to raise her family.
"The chamber is not using its full potential," Zander said. "There is so much more that can be done."
Rabb, whose firm Omicron Technologies Inc. has worked for city agencies as well as some of the largest companies in America, founded the Ed Paschke Art Center and is spearheading efforts to renovate Jefferson Memorial Park without taxpayer money. Rabb is also the president of the National Veterans Art Museum and sits on the Gift Theatre board of directors.
Zander "understands the system," Rabb said. "She knows how to make it work."
Zander, who will divide her time between the West Ridge and Jefferson Park chambers until the first of the year, said she would investigate why there are so many vacant storefronts in Jefferson Park.
Based on her experience in West Ridge, Zander said she would organize field trips for chamber members to other parts of the city to study businesses in those areas — and identify which stores should be recruited to open up second and third locations in Jefferson Park.
"That's what works, based on my track record at West Ridge," Zander said.
In addition to organizing new educational events for businesses, Zander said she would make a "big effort" to ensure that the $200,000 in the Jefferson Park Business tax increment financing district's Small Business Improvement Fund is spent.
"At West Ridge, we couldn't keep that fund full," Zander said. "We need to get that money in the hands of the businesses. I'm not sure why it hasn't been spent before now."
Former Jefferson Park Chamber of Commerce director Anne Kamykowski resigned seven days after a new board was elected, Rabb said.
The chamber, which got $34,000 from the city last year, will become an assistance center for small- and medium-size businesses to get training and access city funds, Rabb said.
"Businesses don't have time to figure all that out," Rabb said. "That's the chamber's job. We're going to be the voice for businesses."
While the chamber will continue to put on Jeff Fest on the last weekend in July, which is the organization's largest money maker, it will not produce as many community events, Rabb said.
"Every business owner wants to know they have friends," Rabb said. "That's our job."
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