Newly elected President Simon Stein has ambitious goals for the Northcenter Chamber of Commerce for 2011. On the heels of the Chamber’s best-ever year, he hopes he can continue the growth and improvement fostered by his predecessor, Rob Engel, of Angel Sales Inc. The 65-year-old organization, based in the North Side area around Lincoln Avenue between Montrose Avenue and Addison Street, currently has 300 members.
At the group’s annual membership meeting Tuesday, Engel’s Chamber colleagues credited him with turning the formerly disorganized Chamber into a well-oiled, transparent organization. During his three-year term, the Chamber moved to new offices and reached an all-time membership high. He also helped raise the profile of Ribfest, its headline event held each summer in Town Square at the intersection of Lincoln, Damen and Irving Park avenues.
“Robbie built the car and handed me the keys,” Stein said. “Now I’m just going to try to keep it between the lines.”
In 2010, the Chamber hosted 30 networking and community events and distributed more than 30,000 maps and guides to the area. Through its Grant and Sponsorship Program, it also donated $50,000 to nonprofits serving North Center, according to Executive Director Garrett FitzGerald.
“Rob took over at a time of flux,” FitzGerald said. “We almost got written off, but he professionalized the Chamber.”
Stein, a senior mortgage consultant for Wintrust Mortgage, served as the Chamber’s treasurer from 2008 to 2010. He was instrumental in helping it achieve solvency.
Stein says he wants to raise the neighborhood’s profile by “bringing in sexy retail” to the empty storefronts in the North Center neighborhood. He is working with landlords to display local art in vacant windows and redevelop Town Square.
“We’re stuck in the middle between Roscoe Village and Lincoln Square,” he said. “We’ve been unknown as a neighborhood.”
In addition to retail growth, Stein says outreach and involvement beyond the business sector is critical. The Chamber’s sponsorship program, started in 2009, plans to donate $25,000 to organizations active in North Center in 2011.