Chamber of Commerce 87th Anniversary
Articles: Sarasota History
Thursday, November 2, 2007, marks the 87th anniversary of the Sarasota Chamber of Commerce. Although the chamber seems like a permanent fixture today, its early start was anything but secure. The Chamber of Commerce began as the Board of Trade in November 1911. Its purpose was to promote the City of Sarasota as a great place to work and a great place to spend the winter. However, in 1914 the Board of Trade functions came to a stop during a financial crisis and did not reorganize until 1916. For the next four years the Board of Trade continued to promote the City of Sarasota.
In 1920, as Sarasota County was, being formed, the Board of Trade reorganized and changed its name to the Sarasota Chamber of Commerce. Hamden S. Smith was the new Chamber's first president. The Chamber of Commerce met in a variety of places during its early existence. On June 4,1925, a new Chamber building was proposed with an estimated cost of $8,000. In the spring of 1926, the Chamber of Commerce moved into the new building on Sixth Street (now State Street). As shown in the above photograph, the Chamber had great pride in its building and in the future of Sarasota.
The Chamber of Commerce continued its drive for better roads, better railroad service, improved utilities and greater publicity for Sarasota County. It also worked in conjunction with the Englewood, Osprey and Venice Chambers of Commerce in promoting the entire county. Even though the Chamber was looking ahead, it was not forgetting its past. A historical committee was set up in 1926 to help collect and preserve the past of Sarasota and Sarasota County. The Chamber grew in size as the great Florida land boom of the late 1920s brought money and businesses into the area. However, by the late 1920s the boom was over and the money and business began to dry up in Sarasota. The Chamber, like the rest of Sarasota and Sarasota County, was heading for lean times.
It was clear by February 1932 that, the Chamber of Commerce building was in need of repairs. In December 1932, the Chamber reported that it could not keep up the, payments on the building and was ready at any time to give the building back to the Bank of Sarasota. On August 1,1934 the Chamber offered $1,000 for they building, but later decided that since the building was in such a dilapidated state to let it go back to the Bank of Sarasota.
In early 1935 the Chamber moved to its new headquarters on the Municipal Pier behind City Hall. Although the Chamber of Commerce was having financial problems of its own, it continued to help within the county and promote the area to the rest of the nation. The Chamber helped bring the Tin Can Tourist Conventions to Sarasota's Payne Park in the early 1930s. In February 1933, when the schools were going to shut down, the Chamber formed a special committee to help raise funds to keep the schools open.
Throughout the Chamber of, Commerce's 87 years it has continued to promote Sarasota County. From its humble beginning with 37 members in 1911 to thousands of members in 2007, the Chamber of Commerce , has survived all the ups and downs of the growth and development of Sarasota County. The Chamber of Commerce is now located at 1945 Fruitville Road in downtown Sarasota.
Special Thanks to Mark D. Smith, Archivist, Sarasota County History Center for his research and time devoted to writing this article.