When we moved over the bay from Mobile the Fairhope Chamber of Commerce was an office with one person in it. She was a widow named Barbara Gooden, with a daughter a year or so younger than my little brother, who was then four years old. Mrs. Gooden held down the job for about 20 years that I know of, and there was not much help for her.
I saw a column in today's Mobile Press-Register with the headline "Eastern Shore Chamber Coming of Age" describing the growth of the local Chamber of Commerce, with no acknowledgement of where it came from, except that it traces its beginnings to 1924. I don't think Mrs. Gooden was around then.
Growth is the thing -- and growth we have, my friends. No longer the Fairhope Chamber of Commerce, it now encompasses the now hugely populated areas all along the Eastern Shore and its Blueprint for Tomorrow campaign has generated almost $2 million in pledges for chamber use over the next five years. In a community that can afford a new library at over $8 million and a performing arts center for over $10 million, this is just a drop in the bucket -- and probably just the beginning.
With its $2 million, the chamber plans to add staff and resources to address more than 50 specific initiatives in six broad areas of concern, according to the newspaper. These broad areas are: Economic Development, Tourism, Governmental Affairs, Transportation and Environment.
In Barbara Gooden's day, it was a different world, and a very different Fairhope. She worked hard to stage little events in town, including the first Arts and Crafts Festival, which was originally made up of storefront displays produced by local artists and craftspeople. She wrote a weekly column in the Fairhope Courier to record her projects. When it began appearing in the mid-1950's with the name "Chamber Corner," my father, always affecting a cynical attitude about Fairhope, said he remembered in his house as a child there was a place in the bedrooms for necessary human functions, and to the best of his recollection, those were the only "chamber corners" he had ever heard of. However, nobody was bothered by the phrase, and Mrs. Gooden used it for years.
When my late husband and I relocated to Fairhope in 1988, we attended a party with a lot of sweet elderly ladies who were briefing him especially about the joys of living in Fairhope. Jim said, "Everybody here sounds like the Chamber of Commerce!"
The sweet little ladies of Old Fairhope vintage were not pleased. "The Chamber of Commerce?" they said. "Oh, we don't like them!"
But now they have come to accept the town and its modernity and growth mode. Some have made a pile of money on the current twisted spin of the Single Tax function. They don't mind the sale of their cottages to developers who demolish them in order to accommodate what is seen as the current market. Unlike me, they don't seem to miss the old Fairhope at all. I would admit, they remember a lot more of what was wrong with it than I do.
Not to worry. It is time to give the Chamber of Commerce its due. Without it, Fairhope would not be what it is, and might not become what it clearly is due to become.
To clear my head I just walked to the bluff and had a look at the pier, under expensive construction after Katrina's devastation. Then I went over to the statue of Marietta Johnson and felt an unexpected surge of security in grasping the hand of the great lady, and reading the inscription that I wrote six years ago. Bless all the people with money -- and may they soon discover the Organic School again.