Seal Beach Chamber reaches crossroad in wild year

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Revenues down as group’s leaders seeks to add value to membership

Seal Beach Chamber of Commerce revenues and membership are down this year, according to Rob Jahncke, newly elected Chamber president and owner of Main Street’s Javatinis Espresso. Meanwhile, the business community faces an uncertain economic environment. (For the Chamber’s plans for the next 12 months, see “Ongoing and Upcoming” on page 5)

The Sun recently asked Jahncke what the Chamber was hearing from local businesses.

“They’re still struggling to adapt—we’re all waiting for things to open a bit more,” Jahncke said.

As of Monday, Oct. 19, Orange County was in the “red tier” for operating restrictions.

Last week, OC was in the red tier.

Jahncke said businesses were hoping OC would go to orange a couple of weeks ago.

He also said there was still a log of uncertainty.

He said Gov. Gavin Newsom had recently “tweaked” his reopening plans again.

According to the Chamber’s Oct. 12 “Weekly Squeal,” the state’s new Health Equity Guidelines “will make it more difficult for Orange County to move to the Orange tier; thus, making it more difficult for the easing of re-opening restrictions on businesses and places of worship.”

A Sept. 30 post on the California Department of Public Health website said, “In order to advance to the next less restrictive tier, depending on its size, a county will need to meet an equity metric and/or demonstrate targeted investments to eliminate disparities in levels of transmission.”

Jahncke said, “It’s hard to keep up, frankly.”

Jahncke said he knew a number restaurants that are opening now, but in anticipation of Orange County going to the orange tier, which is less restrictive than red.

In Orange, restaurants can have 50% indoor occupancy, according to Jahncke.

Jahncke said he knew that Walt’s Wharf owners were anticipating going to orange. A sign on the front door of Walt’s Wharf advises delivery people that the restaurant will open soon. An Oct. 9 post on the restaurant’s Facebook page said, “We are excited to see you again soon.” The restaurant announced it was closing in a March 21 post.

Asked about Chamber membership, Jahncke said, “It’s down, unfortunately.”

This past weekend, the Chamber board held a retreat to discuss the group’s focus for the next 12 months.

Jahncke said the focus of the retreat would be on membership and adding value to what the chamber offers.

According to Jahncke, the Chamber’s largest sources of revenue are from membership and from events. “So, obviously revenues are way down,” he said.

“The Car Show is our biggest fundraiser,” he said.

Many Seal Beach events, by either the Chamber or other groups, have been canceled this year due to COVID-19 related restrictions.

The figures found in the Chamber’s 2018 IRS 990 Form confirm what Jahncke said about the Chambers revenues. ( Jahncke said he would try to get the Sun a copy of the 2019 Form, but pointed out it would not reflect the impact of COVID-19 on 2020 revenues.) According to the 2018 document, the Chamber took in $42,755 in membership dues and assessments that year. The same 990 Form reported $46,955 in net income from fundraising events.

“It’s been a challenge,” Jahncke said. “Kori [DeLeon] did a really good job, though, I think.” DeLeon was the Chamber president before Jahncke .

Asked if having an event-driven revenue model was a good idea, Jahncke said, “Well today, it clearly is not.”

However, he pointed out that the Chamber had done a lot of events.

“Our mission statement includes enhancing the quality of life through events,” he said. Among those events are the Car Show, the Summer Concert Series and the health fair.

“And these events bring people in, too,” Jahncke said, apparently referring to bringing visitors into the city.

Jahncke said that the Seal Beach Chamber of Commerce used to have two people working in the office, one part-time and one full-time. The Chamber now has one full-time employee.

Asked if the Chamber had considered making the paid position a voluntary one, he said, “I guess we haven’t.”

“She has no skin in the game,” Jahncke said, pointing out the one employee does not own her own business.

“The short answer is no,” he said.

According to Jahncke, most Chambers have paid directors.

Asked what the Chamber was doing to assist members during COVID, he said the Chamber was working on that now.

He said the Chamber has been doing virtual networking meetings and coffee chats.

He said the Chamber helped push for restaurants to have outdoor seating in Seal Beach.

(Seal Beach was among the last cities in Orange County to authorize outdoor dining.)

He said that when the city comes up with changes “we’ve been helping the city get the information out to businesses.” According to Jahncke, the information was disseminated regardless of whether businesses were Chamber members or not.

He also said the Chamber set up Support Seal Beach Restaurants on Facebook and supported the city government’s Hold Fast Seal Beach marketing campaign.

Jahncke said he never saw the city do anything like the marketing campaign before.

He said he plans to use credit from the Sun newspaper for advertising. The Sun and the Chamber agreed to partner on promotions earlier this year.

Publisher Steven Remery confirmed the partnership but pointed out that it would be a challenge to promote many businesses given that the partnership expires at the end of December.

Jahncke said the Chamber has a membership drive and a couple of events coming up.

Jahncke said the Chamber does what it can, but businesses need to promote themselves. He said the city, the Chamber and businesses all need to do their part.

Asked if COVID had given the Chamber any insight on what to do going forward, Jahncke said the problem with going forward is that everything changes. He said there are a lot of contingency plans. “No one knows when we’re going to orange level,” he said.”

When he was told that the Sun has heard from restaurants and other businesses on Main Street feel the Chamber does not aggressively advocate for business, Jahncke said he hadn’t heard that.

“We want to be there for the businesses and I’d like to know the concerns of the businesses,” Jahncke said. He said he wants to know what their concerns are. He said there was a real diverse group of businesses out there.