Julie Rose vividly remembers a time when the Los Altos Chamber of Commerce’s office phone rang throughout the day. As the chamber president, she fielded call after call about local businesses.
Today, that phone is mostly silent. A majority of the inquiries are handled by email or through the chamber’s website.
Still, while the means of communication have changed, many things haven’t. The chamber’s role is essentially the same as it was at its founding in 1951. According to Rose, the chamber’s core functions include creating a strong local economy, promoting businesses, the overall interests of the local community and providing networking and marketing opportunities for members.
To this end, the Chamber performs a grab bag of services. They range from community events, such as the annual fall festival and State of the Cities luncheon, to business networking activities such as periodic business mixers and its annual Business EXPO.
Tradition can be seen in the chamber office itself. Operations have continued out of the 321 University Ave. building, designed by famed architect Goodwin Steinberg, since its opening in 1961.
The chamber continues to represent Los Altos’ seven shopping districts, from Loyola Corners and Foothill Crossing to the El Camino Corridor and the downtown, added Rose.
The chamber currently serves 485 local member businesses and other entities, which pay annual dues ranging from $130 to $690.
The way the organization promotes local businesses is constantly evolving, according to Rose. The organization’s means of doing business today involves less time spent producing direct mail and pamphlets, and more creating e-newsletters and posting items of interest on Facebook, she said.
“It’s the new way of communicating for us,” said Rose, who joined the chamber in 1996. “It’s certainly less expensive.”
Rose said the chamber website averages more than 5,100 visitors per month, and its small staff widely distributes a monthly e-newsletter. Those online efforts have been effective enough that she’s considering phasing out the organization’s traditional newsletter, mailed out quarterly.
In addition, Rose said the chamber has been increasingly active in promoting businesses and local events through social media – like Facebook.
“One thing we’re learning is we’re making sure to spread the word for our members (through Facebook),” she said. “I think it’s a valuable way to give added benefits to our members.”
To that end, Rose said she informs members about the benefits of promoting their businesses through social-media efforts.
“There’s still a critical mass of members who aren’t there yet, but they’re getting there,” she said.
Some chamber members, like Cranberry Scoop owner Ellen Biolsi, prefer to test the waters before committing fully.
Biolsi said she relies heavily on customer loyalty and old-fashioned word-of-mouth to keep business going.
“I’m still trying to learn (social media) and figure it all out,” said Biolsi, whose store has been a fixture on State Street for four decades. “The store’s been here for 40 years, so I have young moms who come in all the time and tell me they’ve shopped here since they were teenagers.”
Dr. Sam Pesner, Los Altos Chamber of Commerce board chairman, said he sees the value of word-of-mouth advertising in the success of his business. Pesner, who has practiced optometry in Los Altos since 1982, said it’s a mix of the personal touch and residents’ willingness to shop locally that has made a difference for many longtime merchants.
“We live in a modern world, but people (in Los Altos) have allegiances to their local stores,” he said. “The people who own the stores are their neighbors or people they know. People have choices, so here in the (downtown) village and in the other six shopping areas of Los Altos, I think the owners try to make it personal.”
Rose noted that promoting business in Los Altos is unique because of the city’s diverse group of consumers.
She pointed out that many smaller local business owners rely on a combination of online promotional efforts and more traditional forms of conducting business.
“To be successful here, you have to be able to do both, and that’s a challenge,” she said. “At the same time, I still think that what Los Altos has is that one-on-one customer service, that relationship, and that’s unique.”
For more information, visit www.losaltoschamber.org.