WASHINGTON — The Washington Chamber of Commerce has been a part of the city's business community since the chamber opened in 1959.
The chamber's office — in at least seven locations, according to Washington Historical Society research -- has been either on or near the downtown Washington square.
That bit of history changed Jan. 2, when the chamber opened its new office a few blocks east of the square on the second floor of the Washington Park District building in a former storage room.
The chamber had been at 114 Washington Square since 2006. Its new address is 105 S. Spruce St.
There were several reasons for the move. They range from economic to logistical. That doesn't mean it was an easy decision to pack up and leave.
"Change can be intimidating," said Chevie Kriete, the chamber's executive director. "Our last office served us well. We got a lot accomplished there, including helping our businesses recover from the (2013) tornado. But we're looking forward to getting even more accomplished in our new space."
A move for the chamber office had been discussed for a few years, Kriete said.
One reason was to cut costs so more of the chamber's funds could be devoted to helping the chamber's nearly 300 members, a key goal identified in a strategic plan developed in 2017.
Then there was a drop in walk-in traffic in the office over the past several years.
"When I first started as the chamber's executive director six years ago, we were getting an average of 50 to 70 people coming into our office in a typical week," she said. "That number gradually dropped to 10 or 12 in a typical week.
"Much of our work is done through phone calls and emails now. And Wendy Wagner, our membership manager who was hired in December 2017, goes out to the members and meets with them."
An update to the chamber's website that is expected to be completed next month will allow users to do tasks like sign up for an event or pay chamber membership dues, taking away even more reasons for stopping into an office.
The layout of the chamber's former office wasn't conducive to getting work done efficiently, Kriete said.
"Because we're a small staff, each of us does a lot of things, and we need to communicate and collaborate all the time," she said. "We don't have cubicles in our new office and it has an open layout."
The other full-time chamber employee besides Wagner is office manager Jenny Harpman. Candy Liggin, communications and event coordinator, and bookkeeper Kim Hess are part-timers.
Moving into the park district building -- the former Washington Middle School -- was the next step in a growing partnership between the chamber and the park district, Kriete said.
"The park district has been helping us more and more with events like Good Neighbor Days, the Take Pride in Washington spring cleanup and Washington Night at a (Peoria) Chiefs game," she said.
Kriete said neither she nor park district executive director Brian Tibbs can recall whose idea it was for the chamber to move into the park district building, but it has worked out well so far.
"We're using the park district's conference room on the first floor for meetings instead of the conference room in the basement of our former office," Kriete said.
"If someone comes into the park district main office and wants to talk to us, someone comes down quickly."
A brochure rack that arrived Friday eventually will be set up across from the main office. Kriete said the rack will be filled with brochures and information from Washington businesses.
Steve Stein can be reached at (248) 224-2616 or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @SpartanSteve.