How big ideas are moving the small town’s businesses towards a bright future.
By Dave Fountinelle | email@example.com and Photos by Laci Miranda [@darkstar84_photos]
Nestled in one of its many beautiful, historic buildings, the Lemoore Chamber of Commerce is the literal and figurative heart of downtown. Inside, the operation is bare-bones, and one immediately gets the impression that this is a space where people are too busy getting things done to worry about aesthetics. Desks and tabletops are decorated with memos, printouts, and agendas. The walls are festooned with calendars and Post-it notes. Yet, the air crackles with contagious energy. Something is going on here, you can feel it as soon as you walk in the door.
A few minutes after I arrive, CEO Amy Ward walks in wearing a witch costume while carrying a purple pumpkin bucket. She has just returned from walking to various downtown businesses as part of the Chamber’s “reverse trick-or-treat.” Ward and her staff visit each local shop, handing out candy, saying hello, and checking in with their members.
“We just want to let our members know that we’re always thinking about them, we’re always here for them, and we value and appreciate them,” Amy tells me.
Indeed, during today’s walk, many business owners took advantage of the opportunity to chat face-to-face with Amy, asking her questions, and sharing opinions and ideas. It’s such a simple yet impactful gesture and it’s just one small example of Lemoore’s appreciation of its small business community.
Originally from Temecula, Amy Ward moved to Lemoore – as many do – because of the military. However, when the opportunity came to leave, Amy knew she was here to stay.
“I love this community. I love the people here. Lemoore reminds me of my hometown when I was growing up, it just feels like home to me, and I couldn’t imagine living anywhere else.”
Back in 2012, Amy joined the Lemoore Chamber of Commerce board, and in 2016, the CEO position became available.
“Pursuing the CEO position wasn’t part of my plan at all,” Amy says with a smile, “But I saw an opportunity to make a difference and have a positive impact on the town and community that I love. I just couldn’t turn that down.”
Becoming CEO of the Chamber of Commerce meant a significant pay decrease for Amy, but, “This isn’t about the money. I’m doing this because I care. It’s genuine. I’m willing to go above and beyond what’s expected of me to do what’s best for our members and the community.”
Her energy is infectious. Her vision is big, but also very sensible. “I just want to do what works. It’s common sense, but community engagement benefits everyone. Ultimately, we are here to serve our members, and we do that by bringing them more business. It just makes sense that the more you engage the community, the more you invest them in buying local and supporting local businesses.”
When Amy took over in 2016, she inherited a Chamber that she describes as “more of a social club.” An apathetic Chamber combined with a largely detached membership was creating a stale business community.
“When we first started having our Chamber luncheons and mixers, we would be lucky if 15-20 people showed up. Now, we have 75-100 members coming to these events and growing.”
So, what’s the secret to Lemoore’s success? “We have a 3-pillar plan.” Amy explains, “First is a commitment to business revitalization, and that’s largely focused on the downtown area of course. We have a beautiful, historic downtown area with many businesses that have been here for generations. People need to know about them and come check them out and see what they have to offer.”
The second pillar is education. “We want to put programs into place to provide education and support for existing business owners, as well as future business leaders and anyone interested in starting their own business here. We’ve partnered with the high school and West Hills college to provide classes and workshops for students who might be interested in pursuing a career in business. We also host workshops for local businesses on subjects from marketing and promotion, to using social media, to even the most basic fundamentals that every small business owner should know. There are a lot of people who are great at running a business but are lost when it comes to promoting their business, for example. Anything we can do to help our members be more successful, we’re going to do it.”
And the third pillar is a commitment to health and wellness. “Again, it’s common sense, but a healthy employee is a happy employee, and we have partnered with Adventist Health to provide our members with the resources and support to answer and address any questions or concerns they might have on this issue.”
In the 2 ½ years she’s been CEO, Amy has reached out to the City Council, the LPD, and the LFD. She has worked tirelessly to mend fences that had fallen into disrepair during the years of apathy that dogged the Chamber before her arrival.
“We’re all in this together.” She says, “When the community is invested in their business, the businesses do better. When the businesses are invested in their community, the community supports them. And Lemoore is such a great community. We’re doing things here that you just don’t see that much anymore, and it’s exciting to be a part of it.”
Part of the effort to engage with the community are events like the annual Pizza Festival, and the upcoming Holiday Stroll, which takes place on November 23rd from 3-7pm.
“For the Holiday Stroll, we close off the downtown, so it’s foot traffic only, and we have vendors set up in the street, and local businesses are open, and we encourage people just to come down and walk around. Check out what downtown Lemoore has to offer.”
Among the activities planned for the event is a Christmas tree scavenger hunt. Participants will receive a map of local businesses that each has a decorated tree inside them. Visiting each tree gets their list checked off by that business. Everyone who visits all of the trees is entered into a drawing to win one. It’s just one of the many inventive ways the Chamber is utilizing to connect customers with businesses.
I would be remiss in my duties as a journalist if I didn’t ask Amy about the recent approval for 2 recreational marijuana dispensaries in downtown Lemoore. The general response on social media has been overwhelmingly positive, which is somewhat surprising for such a traditionally conservative community.
“As CEO, my number one concern is for my members. So, I feel that my own personal opinion regarding the issue is irrelevant. If my members are OK with it, then so am I. If my members have an issue with it, it’s my responsibility to communicate those concerns to the city. That being said, the response from our members has been almost 100% positive.” Amy adds, “I visited Valley Pure’s location in Woodlake and spoke with the owner there, as well as with some of the other businesses on the street. I was very impressed with how much Valley Pure gives back. They have personally, charitably donated an impressive amount of money to help improve the neighborhood. They engage with the community, ask questions, and act on them. For example, the people said they wanted a coffee shop, so the owner’s girlfriend opened one right next door to the dispensary. That really impressed me. That’s the kind of energy and involvement you love to see, especially in a small town.”
So, what does the future hold for Lemoore’s business community? I was given a first look at the Chamber’s rebranding campaign that’s set to roll out in January 2020, under the condition that I do not give away any details. My apologies, but suffice to say, I was quite impressed with what they have planned.
“2020 is all about clear vision, and that’s what we want to convey with our rebranding. We have a clear vision for the future of business in Lemoore and the community. We have exciting things planned, and I can’t wait to show everyone what makes Lemoore such a unique and special place.”
If you would like to volunteer for the Holiday Stroll or any upcoming Lemoore community events, you can email firstname.lastname@example.org or call (559)216-0505 for more information.