NAZARETH, Pa. (WLVT) - For more than a decade, two chambers of commerce have served businesses in Nazareth, giving them the option of choosing one or the other. Those chambers are now coming together in a move both sides say will benefit the community.
The Nazareth Area Chamber of Commerce and Nazareth Business Council (NBC) have agreed to a partnership. Both chambers emphasize that the move is not a merge, but rather a collaboration.
"It's a very exciting time for us," said Jessica O'Donnell, executive vice president of affiliated chambers with the Greater Lehigh Valley Chamber of Commerce (GLVCC), which oversees NBC.
"It's going to be a win-win for our membership," added Bill Skinner, chairman of the Nazareth Area Chamber of Commerce.
Skinner said the partnership will avoid conflicting events between the chambers and will encourage them to work together and make existing events bigger and better.
"The different key events were happening at the holidays at the same time, and it just seemed that we were asking people to commit to two events and support two entities," he explained. "It just seemed to dilute everything that was going on."
The Nazareth Area Chamber of Commerce has served the community for 80 years. Skinner said the partnership gives the chamber more resources while keeping its identity.
"There's a legacy there. There's tradition there, and I think to maintain our autonomy will allow us to respond to what the borough needs and give back to the borough," he said.
NBC created in 2012 by GLVCC, which has absorbed several smaller chambers in the region. O'Donnell said this agreement is different.
"We're going to blend together to continue the local initiatives from both of these chambers and enhance even more what we're doing in this community," she said.
GLVCC is already partnering with a chamber in the Poconos and previously partnered with one in Whitehall before they eventually merged. O’Donnell said what matters most in Nazareth is hearing from businesses.
"We need our businesses to tell us what they would like in this community, because that's how we're able to create these new initiatives and continue to change continue the momentum moving forward," she said.
The Nazareth Economic Development Commission (NEDC), which organizes the farmers' market, among other events, said the chambers’ partnership is a positive move in a town with lots to offer.
"The Nazareth business community is a really interesting mix of different types of businesses," said downtown manager Elizabeth Wyant. "Like most downtowns, you have your salons and service businesses, of course, but you also have some unique little shops in town -- and we have the most walkable downtown in all of the Lehigh Valley."
Right on Main Street is a store called Herbs to Your Success. The business is a member of the Nazareth Area Chamber of Commerce. Owner Vanessa Sabatine says Nazareth was buzzing when NBC came along.
"People talk about it. A lot of gossip about it, and with Nazareth people, they're very concerned with something new," she explained. "So, there was always a concern like, 'What's the new guy going to do?'"
She said she’s optimistic about the new partnership, though she admitted there have been times when moves like this haven't gone smoothly.
"Maybe many years ago when the Lehigh Valley [chamber] took over Easton, that was definitely true," she said. "I think they've learned since they've been doing this now with a different community. Because we've been adamant as far as we want to keep the flavor of Nazareth, I think they've heard it and will realize that we are going to keep our Nazareth roots."
Events like the July 4th Kazoo Parade and Martin on Main have drawn crowds to Nazareth for years. Newer events like Nazareth Area Restaurant Week are hoping to gain momentum.
Austin James, founder and director of operations for The Nazareth Times, said having two chambers organize events led to some confusion in the past, but now, the partnership will bring more clarity.
"I think that once the dust settles and things kind of level out, I think people will get used to it, and it'll help things just to become a little bit more organized and less chaotic in terms of who's running who and what events are being hosted by who," he said.
Both chambers say those events will continue, but some of them may look a little different moving forward.
"We're going to actually kind of marriage some of the events that we are already doing with the Nazareth Business Council such as Christmas in Naz, maybe enhancing that by adding their tree lighting and making their bigger day more fun throughout the community," O'Donnell said. "They do Truck-or-Treat, maybe doing that the same day that we do the Halloween parade and fall festival."
"If they're on separate days, if one's on a Saturday, and one’s on a Sunday, we can put them all together and have a big event and get Valley-wide publicity, so that maybe more people will come into town for our signature events," Skinner added.
The chambers will operate under the name Nazareth Area Chamber of Commerce. They’re still working on which office they’ll use, and they’ll work with members to get them on board with both chambers.
"Traditions die hard," Skinner said, "but I think if people wait and see what's going to happen, it's going to be great. It's going to be huge."