Tupper Lake Chamber of Commerce to dissolve
Town to take over running events for short-handed chamber
TUPPER LAKE — The Tupper Lake Chamber of Commerce is dissolving as it struggles to attract members, and the town is working on plans to take over running the chamber’s events starting in 2023.
“You can’t run a committee with three board members,” chamber President Jocelyn Law wrote in a message to the Enterprise.
The town council took a unanimous vote on Sept. 8 to form a committee to explore expanding the town recreation department. The membership for this 12-person committee is still to be decided, Tupper Lake interim Supervisor Mary Fontana said, but the town has reached out to people to represent the village, school district, Tupper Lake Business Group and other groups.
Town Councilman John Gillis will be the chair for this committee.
“For the town to take over these events is a substantial amount of work,” Gillis said.
But he believes that work could be worth it.
“We don’t want to lose these key events in Tupper Lake,” Gillis said. “They’re legacy events.”
The chamber plans the Brew-Ski, Tinman triathlon, Trick-or-Treat on Park Street, OkTUPPERfest and the Raquette Pond Brewfest.
These events are not new, Fontana said. They are already steady traditions with plenty of volunteers. The “ball is already rolling,” she said.
The committee’s goal would be to keep the events profitable and self-sustaining, while using the revenue they generate to better the community.
“It’s a lack of volunteers and a lack of members that has pushed this in our laps,” Fontana said. “It’s a great opportunity for the town of Tupper Lake but it’s a sad moment for the chamber.”
This fall, chamber Events Coordinator Christine Marquise will organize OkTUPPERfest and the town will help run Trick-or-Treat on Park Street.
Brew-Ski 2023 would be the first chamber event to be run fully by the town.
“We have done it more or less anyways,” Fontana said. “Our youth director is always present.”
Also, town council members have always volunteered to groom the trails, help set up and tear down.
“It runs pretty smoothly and it’s gone on long enough that it shouldn’t be too different,” Fontana said.
The Raquette Pond Brewfest was not included in a letter the chamber sent to the town council requesting it take over its events.
The chamber has not had enough members for a very long time, Law said, and she’s been trying to get new members to no avail. She believes dissolving the organization is best option. If the chamber goes on pause to wait for new members, that means its events pause, too, and the organization’s money would stay “stagnant” in the bank.
“I don’t want to see a committee that’s been around for so many years to just go away,” Law said. “But if it’s not getting the support that it needs I don’t see how it’s going to succeed.”
The Tupper Lake Chamber was founded in 1958.
It was a tough decision to make in one way, and easy in another, she said. Some other members of the chamber board — including Treasurer Sandie Strader — oppose dissolving.
Law says she does not have the time to lead the chamber. She has two kids and a third on the way Nov. 15. During a phone interview on Monday she was watching a “dino show” with her children and warning them not to eat toothpaste.
She also owns Mountain Bliss Massage and said she often leaves her paying job to work on chamber issues.
Law said she doesn’t want to be “tied down” by the chamber and needs to focus on her life for now.
Law believes the chamber would need a full-time paid director to continue.
“That paid person needs to be someone that’s beyond an events coordinator,” she said. “It needs to be someone that’s dealing with the business memberships and dealing with all that background stuff.”
Law said TLBG had suggested to her that the town expand its recreation department to take over events for the chamber in the spring. At the time, she wasn’t ready to do that. She wanted to give it a shot. In the spring, when she was new to the position, Law said she was “gung-ho” on trying to make it flourish.
But after months of little progress and no one joining, Law is ready to lay down the role.
“I, for one, was thrown to the wolves in this position,” Law said.
She had been on the chamber board for one year in an untitled position when the former president, Sonny Young, stepped down and she was elevated to the leadership role she had not sought.
She said she didn’t get a whole lot of guidance — she was still figuring out what a chamber of commerce is supposed to do.
“If I had stepped into a position where everything was in order and running smoothly, I would be able to handle continuing to run it smoothly,” Law said. “But I can’t spend the time that is needed to pretty much create it. Because it’s not there.”
Town to expand rec department
The Tupper Lake Business Group has asked the town to take over these events in the past year, Fontana said. The town council had considered it, but the chamber was still trying to make its organization work at the time.
“What we didn’t want to do was step on toes,” Fontana said. “We didn’t want to overstep.”
Now that the chamber is dissolving, the town is ready to take them on, she said.
Law said she thinks the town is best qualified to run the events.
Though she’s stepping down, Law said she’s willing to take calls, answer questions and share contacts with the town’s committee, but she won’t be a member on it.
Currently, the town recreation director, Laura LaBarge, is doing a “phenomenal” job, Fontana said, but she has a lot on her plate. LaBarge has a part-time employee helping her out, but Fontana said she’d need more help to run these events.
Gillis pointed out that the Tupper Lake Tinman was first the triathlon in the area, “well before the Ironman.”
The Tupper Lake Tinman celebrated 40 years this June. Ironman Lake Placid hit 23 years in July. Gillis said the Tinman has a good race director and is a steady event.
“(Tinman Race Director) Wendy Peroza has done a phenomenal job,” Fontana said.
Gillis added that he’s now seeing other places “copy” the Brew-Ski event.
“I’m comfortable with that because I’ve worked every one,” said Gillis, who grooms the trails at the golf course near his home.
Fontana said she started talking with Law about taking on the events in July. There’s still a lot of logistics and finances to iron out.
The town will need to craft a business strategy — it can’t use taxpayer dollars for these events.
“That’s not what the municipality is here for,” Fontana said. “That’s unfair.”
For the chamber to transfer the money it has to the town would take approval by the state attorney general or petition approval by a state supreme court justice. This could take 18 months, Fontana said, but Law thinks it may be easier to transfer the money.
It’s not the taxpayer’s responsibility to fund these events, she said, so the town would create a new bank account for the recreation department. All revenue and expenses would be handled in it’s own budget, like with the town highway department.
Because the town may not be able to get the chamber’s money for a while, Fontana said the first few events may need to be paid for from the town’s fund balance, and reimbursed after the event revenues come in.
“Instead of sending it back to the taxpayers to fund this event, we can borrow the funds from the general fund to host the event,” Fontana said. “Then, as the profits come through, do a budget transfer and transfer that money back to the general fund.”
She said she’s seen the chamber’s financials for the events and feels Brew-Ski is sure to generate enough revenue to refund the town accounts and have enough left to put into the recreation department’s new account.
Fontana said Tinman and Brew-Ski generate revenue; OkTUPPERfest is a “wash” financially for the chamber; and Trick-or-Treat on Park Street only costs the printing price for flyers in business windows.
The town is entering budget season now, and is discussing this new venture in its meetings.