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For the first time in nearly three years, Street Fair returned to Yellow Springs last October. The event brought over 20,000 visitors to the village. According to Chamber of Commerce Chair Mark Hesie, this year's fairs — set for the second Saturdays in June and October — may be even bigger. (2022 photo by Ben Guenther)

Yellow Springs Chamber of Commerce ramps up 2023 activities

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The past several years have been rife with challenges for the Yellow Springs Chamber of Commerce.

Following the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in early 2020, the next five Street Fairs — the Chamber’s largest source of income — were canceled due to public health precautions.

Additionally, the local chamber, which boasts nearly 250 member businesses, has been without an executive director since Karen Wintrow retired in October 2020. Wintrow had a brief successor, Elizabeth Ford of Xenia, who acted as executive director for 13 days in July 2021, until her controversial social media posts led to her termination.

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Since then, chair of the Chamber’s board of directors and owner of Yellow Springer Tees and Promotions, Mark Heise, has largely taken the reins of the organization. Working closely with local businesses, Village government and his team of 10 board members — in particular with vice chair Jason Bailey, of Blue Core Technologies, and former treasurer Ashley Mangen, of US Bank — Heise has spent the last few years striving to bring the Chamber back to a place of stability. 

As Heise told the News in a joint interview with him and Bailey earlier this month, 2023 looks promising for the Chamber of Commerce — and by extension, the whole of Yellow Springs.

“We’ve got big things and we’ve got small things coming up,” Heise said.

Looking ahead to the coming months, the Chamber of Commerce has a jam-packed calendar.

On Thursday, March 30, the Chamber will host an all-member meeting — the first of its kind since the COVID-19 outbreak, Heise said. Following that, Thor Sage, of Miami Valley Educational Computer Association, and the newly appointed treasurer for the Chamber, will spearhead what Heise described as a symposium on civil discourse. While the first meeting is exclusively for Chamber members, the symposium will be open to the public. A date for that event has yet to be determined.

June is perhaps the biggest month for the Chamber.

On the first Saturday in June, the Chamber will partner with the Buckeye Trail Association to put on Yellow Springs Trails Day. The following Saturday, June 10, is Street Fair. Whereas last October’s Street Fair brought an estimated 20,000 visitors to Yellow Springs, Heise and Bailey believe the coming summer’s Street Fair will be even bigger.

Owing to the Village’s massive stormwater project that tore through the Bryan Center’s front lawn, Heise and Bailey said that the Street Fair beer garden and main stage will have to be relocated to allow the new sod to take root.

“We’re kicking multiple alternative spots around,” Bailey said. “There’s no talk about not having a main stage and beer garden. Those will happen one way or another.”

Bailey also noted that, similar to last year’s October Street Fair, the Chamber aims to give preferential treatment to local and downtown vendors when they reserve their event booths.

“We’re trying to do our due diligence with all our vendors, but we want to pull in local businesses and residents as much as possible,” he said. “And we want more street performers. Not just guys juggling, but all kinds of performers.”

One difference from past Street Fairs, however, is the person helming its coordination. Whereas the Chamber previously had a full-time position devoted to coordinating special events — most recently villager Alexandra Scott — now the Chamber is looking to hire a part-time consultant to fill that role.

“The agreement will be a base salary and a percentage of the event’s sponsorships,” Heise said. “That gives them an incentive to go further and push a little harder to bring in more partners for Street Fair.”

After Street Fair come the villagewide Juneteenth and Pride celebrations on the third and fourth Saturdays in June respectively. Juneteenth will be helmed by The 365 Project, and Pride is being coordinated by the recently formed YS Pride nonprofit, so the Chamber’s role will be ancillary for both events, Heise said.

“Whatever they need, to have welcoming and safe events,” he said. “It’s our mission to help the community, so if we’re involved at all, it’s to support as needed. We’re willing to do marketing, promotion, any of that kind of work.”

Next on the roster is the Fourth of July.

Heise reported that beginning this year, the Chamber will take over the event from the Yellow Springs Odd Fellows Lodge. According to him, the previous coordinators, father and daughter David and Emma Robinow, wanted to start spending the holiday with their family members. Now, Heise said, the Chamber will foot the bill for the fireworks and additional expenses. Last year, nearly $10,000 was spent on fireworks alone, he said.

The plan, according to Heise and Bailey, is to suture the afternoon festivities to the evening fireworks display. Rather than having the usual several-hours-long lull between the two activities, the Chamber board hopes to host a day-long community picnic at Gaunt Park leading up to the fireworks. Food vendors and a beer garden are both possibilities, Heise and Bailey said.

“We want to bring locals together,” Bailey said.

Then, once the 10-acre sunflower field at Whitehall Farm begins to bloom, the Chamber will again work with Tecumseh Land Trust to direct traffic and usher visitors into the downtown business district. The Chamber took on that role beginning last year with great success, Heise said.

“When thousands of people come to town, that really should be a Chamber matter,” Heise said. “But just don’t ask me when it’s going to happen this year. We’re at the complete mercy of climate change.”

Next up is PorchFest, which is slated for early September. Like Juneteenth and Pride, the Chamber will offer promotional support as needed.

Moving into autumn, the Chamber is set to host the fall Street Fair on Saturday, Oct. 14. Heise and Bailey said they plan to orchestrate that event based on what works and what doesn’t from the spring event. Then, a couple weeks later, the Chamber hopes to coordinate and rebuild the Zombie Walk.

“We know the kids in the community love that event,” Bailey said. “We’re planning for something. Maybe a ‘zombie-ish walk.’ If someone else doesn’t pick it up, we will.”

And the moment Halloween ends, the holiday shopping season begins. Heise emphasized that the Chamber aims to provide as much support to downtown businesses during this time as they need. He said “Yellow Friday,” the village’s local stand-in for Black Friday, and “Small Business Saturday” will get big pushes from the Chamber.

Last on the docket is the downtown holiday tree lighting — an event that went so well this past December, having drawn a few hundred local residents, that Heise and Bailey said they don’t plan to change much.

“Although this year, Santa Claus won’t have a fake beard,” Heise said with a wink.

All of these events — some being the same, others changing — and the Chamber’s role in them, Heise and Bailey said, ought to show local residents and businesses that the Chamber is hard at work in spite of the setbacks from the past few years.

“Above all, we’re here to serve the interests of Yellow Springs,” Heise said. “We’re trying to strike the perfect balance between business and community.”

As for finding a new executive director, the pair said the board is well on its way to conducting interviews and filling the role.

“We have a little bit of money now,” Bailey said, referring to the revenue generated from the last October Street Fair. “By no means are we where we’d like to be, but we finally have enough to start making bigger financial decisions.”

Heise added that, unlike in the past, the new director will start out part-time. The chosen individual, he said, will further the Chamber’s longtime mission of meeting local needs while bringing more people to experience the village.

“You have people here who believe Yellow Springs was never ever supposed to be a tourist town,” he said. “But the village was founded on tourism. Thousands would come to experience the healing powers of the spring. By definition, Yellow Springs has always been a tourist town.”

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