Dear Editor:

I am writing in response to the letter submitted by Mike Drake, president of the Paonia Chamber of Commerce, which appeared in the Dec. 16 issue of the DCI.

Mr. Drake certainly makes some valid points and his general concept of "Collaboration will help strengthen our economy" has valuable merit. However, there are facts and ideas stated in his letter that are misleading. When it comes to using Cherry Days and Downtown Day as an example of community success due to businesses and the Paonia Chamber of Commerce working together, he is erroneously taking credit for a success for which the Paonia Chamber of Commerce deserves absolutely little or no credit.

Mr. Drake states, "Cherry Days, Downtown Friday, and the Paonia Holiday Festivities exceeded business' expectations. These events demonstrate how the chambers and businesses can work together on multiple local events to attract large audiences to main street businesses." With regard to Cherry Days and Downtown Day, I want to point out that the Paonia Chamber of Commerce has not been involved with the planning and implementing of Cherry Days since 2012. After the disastrous Cherry Days of 2012, the chamber relinquished its hold on the longstanding community event and a group of volunteers took over. The group named themselves Cherry Days 4-Ever, which I have been a part of since its inception.

Mr. Drake is correct in stating that teams achieve more than the individual. The group of volunteers I have had the absolute pleasure of working with over the past three years is outstanding. The core group includes Paonia natives (such as myself) and newcomers, business owners and coal miners, and representatives of other civic-minded organizations such as the Paonia Lions Club and North Fork Rotary. The Paonia Volunteer Fire Department has continued to be one of our strongest supporters, always willing to help where needed. The Paonia American Legion continues to support Cherry Days by leading the 4th of July parade and posting our nation's colors in the park. The Cherry Days 4-Ever group has pulled together with the goal of continuing Cherry Days with its long-standing traditions and honoring the aspects of the North Fork Valley that make it unique, including our agricultural and ranching heritage, our deep coal mining heritage, our very talented arts and music community, and the flavor of small town life we all cherish.

Of course, none of the successes Cherry Days has experienced would be possible without the amazing, continued support of the business community -- not only in Paonia but throughout the valley and Delta County -- and the many volunteers who give their time and efforts during Cherry Days. The event is truly a community event!

With regard to Downtown Day -- in 2015 our group reached out to include the Paonia Chamber of Commerce in helping implement and promote Downtown Day. I spoke with Mr. Drake on one occasion regarding this effort and then with their office secretary.

The chamber presented us with the idea that one of their representatives would contact every business on Grand Avenue from Third Street to First Street and Cherry Days representatives would contact the businesses off Grand Avenue. When it came down to crunch time, it was discovered that several of the businesses on Grand had not been contacted by the chamber.

Information on businesses that the chamber had reached out to was not made available in a timely manner in order to promote their planned activities in the way the Cherry Days committee would have liked. Our group paid for the entertainment provided in Poulos Park and for all of the advertising involving Cherry Days. Needless to say, I was very disappointed in the resulting efforts on behalf of the chamber. I'm a believer in stepping up and following through. If you can't meet the commitment, then don't make it. Downtown Day was a success because of the number of businesses that participated and put forth efforts to decorate their storefronts and host a variety of events to entertain and support the public. That didn't happen because of anything the Cherry Days group did or anything the chamber did. It happened because of the business community. The Cherry Days 4-Ever group simply helped set the stage and provided musical entertainment.

Mr. Drake states, "The chambers of commerce provide LEADERSHIP, ADVOCACY and ACTION. The chambers are the catalysts for a thriving, diverse and vibrant business economy that supports our valued quality of life." I would like to challenge the Paonia Chamber of Commerce as to the quality of leadership and who, exactly, are you advocating for? From my perspective, I do not see the chamber as being all inclusive to the business community and ALL aspects of our economy. The question isn't, "Who are the members of the chamber of commerce but, rather, who are not?" If you look through the Business Directory on the chamber's website, you will see many long-standing, mainstream businesses are missing and are no longer members. I think the chamber should be asking why. What value do businesses get from membership dues? If the chamber does not know the answer to those questions, I encourage the chamber board to visit those business owners who are not members and ask them why they haven't renewed their membership in several years. They may not like the answers, but those answers are critical to the chamber's goal of becoming an all-inclusive entity formed to promote ALL COMMERCE in Paonia.

Mr. Drake is correct, our economy is struggling. Times are difficult and many businesses are struggling to stay alive and remain profitable. Retail businesses, grocery stores, auto parts stores, variety stores, hardware/lumber supply stores, printing companies, trophy shops, all restaurants, the coal mines, cleaners/laundromats and other types of businesses are all important and critical to our economy. We ALL need to succeed, not just the Creative District, or the wineries, or the art galleries, or the organic farmers and farm-to-table ventures. It takes every single one of us to support our local economy and help our neighbors and business friends succeed.

So remember Delta County -- Put your Money Where your Heart Is and Shop Local! Happy New Year!

Tina Walker


Cherry Days 4-Ever


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