Jersey Reflections: First 100 Years

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Vineland’s Chamber of Commerce celebrates its centennial on June 11.

This June, the commemoration of a momentous occasion in Vineland history will take place when the Chamber of Commerce celebrates 100 years of service at its Annual President’s Gala.

The event will honor the night 200 Vineland residents gathered together at Stanisic’s Hall on Wednesday evening, June 11, 1919. Amidst the music, entertainment, and general camaraderie, a meeting was conducted. Although a Board of Trade had been established in 1888, Leo L. Reading, a former newspaperman who became the organization’s first secretary, convinced others that there was a need for a Chamber of Commerce in Vineland. Reading, who had served as a member of the Vineland Businessman’s Association for nine years, helped organize this first meeting, taking the minutes while Eugene M. Kimball, who would serve as president until 1923, chaired the event.

According to news reports, the only business discussed that evening concerned the consolidation of Vineland Borough and Landis Township, but by the end of the meeting, 55 attendees had signed on as charter members of the Vineland Chamber of Commerce. At the following month’s meeting, bylaws were established for the organization and annual dues of $20 implemented for a membership that had already increased to 102.

The Chamber of Commerce wasted no time in publishing a bulletin called The Hub and concerned itself with a bill in the state legislature that could prove beneficial for the area’s glass industries. If that wasn’t enough, the next year the organization published a Monograph of Beautiful Vineland and declared that its purpose was to “unite the populace in a common cause as to insure concerted action on the part of all good citizens in the interest of community betterment and sound progress.”

During its early years, the Chamber of Commerce fought to aid its businesses, as in the case of poultry farmers who were being forced by a new law to use only brand-new crates to ship eggs, a demand that would have cost an additional $15,000 annually. The organization’s efforts allowed the farmers to use what reports called “a good second-hand crate” instead. Investigations into establishing a cold storage facility was also part of the Chamber’s work. 

But the organization also continued to fight vigorously for the consolidation of Vineland Borough and Landis Township. The merger issue addressed at the Chamber’s inception continued to lead the list of priorities until the two municipalities finally united in 1952.

Former Chamber executive secretary M. Murray Sternberg, writing shortly after his retirement during the group’s 50th Anniversary, reported that the organization believed that “consolidation was the answer for an orderly and economic growth” and admitted that the Chamber’s efforts included setting up a “master plan to embrace, explore and answer every conceivable criticism that could be directed against this merger.”

At the time of Sternberg’s retirement, the Chamber, which had incorporated in 1934, sponsored a successful annual Mardi Gras festivity, which culminated in the crowning of a Queen who represented Vineland at various functions throughout the year.

Today, the New Orleans celebration has been replaced by an annual Dandelion Dinner (scheduled this year for March 23), in which the Vineland-grown delicacy is sautéed, fried, baked and bottled for a special evening that draws residents and travelers alike.

During the 20th century, the Chamber headquarters occupied five different Landis Avenue locations as well as a city-owned building on East Avenue and Wood Street. After the turn of the millennium, it moved its offices from center city to its current Delsea Drive site.

Today, the Chamber may still have its share of inquiries from tourists looking for accommodations, but its programs and sponsored events are a much more accurate definition of the organization and how it serves its membership. Much like its early self, the organization keeps a vigil on legislation, watching carefully for New Jersey laws that can affect area businesses and promoting the economic opportunities the town offers. 

And on June 11, the Chamber celebrates its birth 100 years ago when a Vineland newspaperman with a vision convinced a group of residents that the need for a Chamber of Commerce was worth a night of discussion and an annual commitment that continues to this day.

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