By Joan Fudala
Born March 6, 1947, the Scottsdale Area Chamber of Commerce qualifies as a baby boomer. However, as many boomers retire or become emeriti members of community groups, the Scottsdale Chamber continues to serve Scottsdale residents and businesses in every-evolving ways.
From serious economic development, business education and public policy initiatives to helping businesses network and get to know their community, the chamber has logged many milestones in 75 years.
Consider this mix of chamber moments:
• A forerunner of today’s Scottsdale Chamber formed circa 1921, operating out of a room behind the Farmers Bank on Main Street (now the Rusty Spur Saloon). Chamber members worked with Maricopa County to advocate area road improvements. That chamber disbanded sometime in the early 1940s.
• Today’s Scottsdale Area Chamber of Commerce incorporated March 6, 1947, with artist Wes Segner elected its first president. In its early years, Cliff Carpenter served as the chamber’s manager. The chamber met in in the evenings (often until 10:30 p.m.) at various board members’ business locations (such as the Arizona Craftsmen Center at Brown and Main) and in the basement cafeteria of the Scottsdale Grammar School (now the Scottsdale Artists School). Early dues were $10. The population of then-unincorporated Scottsdale area was estimated to be 2,000 residents.
• In its early years, the chamber performed functions that would later be assumed by the town council (after Scottsdale incorporated) — holding benefits to pay for street paving and oiling (at the time only a few streets were paved), printing maps and tourism brochures, and encouraging best business practices among the many new businesses.
• In 1947, the agriculture committee was one of the chamber’s standing committees. The chamber actively supported the 4-H Club, sponsored square dances to raise money and was geared toward supporting Scottsdale’s farming lifestyle and economy.
• To give Scottsdale old-timers and new residents a chance to meet and have fun, the chamber sponsored a horse rodeo, the Hi Neighbor Day picnic and, in partnership with the Scottsdale Riding Club, staged the first Sunshine Festival in November 1951. It was later renamed Parada del Sol and taken over by the newly created Scottsdale Jaycees in 1954. Goldwater’s Department Store hosted the Sunset Pinks fashion show on Main Street. An article in the Dec. 14, 1949, Arizona Republic reported that the Scottsdale Chamber of Commerce sponsored a winter season kick-off dinner attended by more than 105 people “which featured a 4-square-foot chicken pie.”
• In 1947 the chamber adopted the slogan coined by merchant Malcolm White, “The West’s Most Western Town,” including it in tourism promotions. The chamber also urged businesses to design their storefronts with a Western motif.
• The chamber also organized the Scottsdale Community Chest in 1947 as a subsidiary with a goal of funding welfare and civic programs. The chamber committee also helped raised funds for an iron lung during the polio epidemic.
• In 1949, the chamber began hosting public meetings to discuss the pros and cons of incorporating Scottsdale as a municipality. During the winter/spring of 1951, a chamber committee led by Dr. Phil Schneider circulated petitions among Scottsdale residents who favored incorporating. Due to the overwhelming number of signatures collected, the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors declared the town of Scottsdale incorporated as of June 25, 1951.
• The chamber erected an oversized cowboy sign on the northeast corner of Scottsdale Road and Main Street in fall 1952. The cowboy remains an iconic landmark in Old Town Scottsdale and a perennial photo backdrop.
• Among the chamber’s public policy initiatives in its first two decades: obtaining fire service for the town, establishing an airport to foster economic development and tourism, getting a hospital built in Scottsdale, opening a junior college and improving parking in the downtown area.
• While it pursued programs to enhance the economy and the growing community at large, the chamber also served as “boosters-in-chief” during the 1950s and 1960s. It created the “Howdy Dudettes” in 1959, a group of Western-costumed Scottsdale High coeds who welcomed convention groups to town, cut ribbons at new businesses, and represented Scottsdale at Valleywide events. The chamber hosted travel agents and produced a promotional 16mm film, “Hegira!”, that was sent to travel agencies and tour operators throughout the United States to encourage visits to Scottsdale.
• In the late 1950s through the early 1980s, the Scottsdale Chamber organized an annual community cleanup to prepare for the arrival of winter visitors
• The chamber’s offices have moved around a bit. They’ve operated out of the Walker Building, a cottage in the Village Patio Shops on Main Street, from a storefront at Pima Plaza, in a 50-foot trailer on the corner of Scottsdale Road and Main Street, in the Western Saving Building on Scottsdale Road at First Street, in the Fine Arts Building at Marshall Way and Main Street, in the Little Red School House (1973-91), in the former Jed Nolan’s Music Hall on Civic Center Mall (1991-2006), the Highland Building on Scottsdale Road and to its current location on McCormick Parkway since 2012. During the late 1990s, the chamber also had Airpark office inside the Scottsdale Airport terminal. Since July 1997, the chamber has also served its members and the public via its website, scottsdalechamber.com
• From 1947 to 2001, the chamber served as Scottsdale’s convention and tourism promotion organization. With the tremendous growth and economic impact of tourism in Scottsdale, a stand-alone convention and visitors bureau was created in 2001 (now known as Experience Scottsdale) — separate from but continuing to work closely with the Scottsdale Chamber.
• The chamber has encouraged the formation of many other community groups, such as the Civic Coordinating Council in 1952, the Scottsdale Jaycees in 1953, the Scottsdale Charros in 1961 and Scottsdale Leadership in 1986.
• When Scottsdale’s 1909-vintage Little Red Schoolhouse (Scottsdale Grammar School No. 1) was threatened with demolition in 1968, the chamber joined with the then-new Scottsdale Historical Society to save the historic property. They held fundraisers by selling school slates and hosting dances. When the city agreed that the schoolhouse should be saved, the chamber agreed to help renovate it and move its offices there.
• In the late 1980s, the chamber began recognizing the Small Business of the Year and, later, a Big Business of the Year. The chamber’s annual awards program continues to recognize businesses as well as nonprofit organizations.
• The Past Presidents Council of the Scottsdale Chamber began hosting the annual Scottsdale History Hall of Fame induction dinner in 1994. It is one of Scottsdale’s most beloved community events and benefits the Scottsdale Historical Society.
• Over the decades, the chamber has conducted business, public policy and quality of life surveys and research resulting in documents such as the McManis Report (1984) and Boyle Report (1989) on Economic Development, Which Way Scottsdale (2003) and Next Steps Scottsdale (2010).
• Some Scottsdale Chamber trivia: In 1957, the chamber board made baseball legend Dizzy Dean an honorary member. In 1972, chamber members and staff and the chamber building starred in an Oxydol detergent TV commercial. In 1984, the chamber’s tourism division ran an ad in Meeting News Magazine with the headline “We’ll Give You the Shirt Off Our Mayor’s Back” (then-Mayor Drinkwater was pictured in the ad wearing a “Meeters Meet Better in Scottsdale” T-shirt).
The Scottsdale Area Chamber of Commerce is planning to celebrate its milestone 75th anniversary throughout the year — at events, in communications and among its member businesses. Who knows… maybe they’ll even try a redo of that 4-foot-square chicken pie!