Christina Oxley, center, executive director of the Craig Chamber of Commerce and its Moffat County Visitor Center, converses with community members and chamber board members Thursday in the Craig Chamber of Commerce during the organization’s 65th anniversary celebration. Oxley said as the chamber looks to the future, she and the chamber’s staff and board plan to continue to increase visibility on the Internet.

Photo by Ben McCanna

Christina Oxley, center, executive director of the Craig Chamber of Commerce and its Moffat County Visitor Center, converses with community members and chamber board members Thursday in the Craig Chamber of Commerce during the organization’s 65th anniversary celebration. Oxley said as the chamber looks to the future, she and the chamber’s staff and board plan to continue to increase visibility on the Internet.

Craig Chamber of Commerce celebrates 65th anniversary

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Reprint of an article from The Craig Empire-Courier — Oct. 16, 1946:

Chamber of Commerce Officers Have First Meeting Last Week

The officers of the Chamber of Commerce of Craig met for their first meeting last Wednesday evening at the Cosgriff hotel.

A dinner was served in the banquet room and, after eating, the business of the club was discussed until eleven o’clock.

The first and most important business meeting was that of hiring a full-time secretary for the coming year. About 15 applications were received and these were narrowed down to two.

One applicant is now working on the west coast and has been notified to come to Craig for an interview. The other applicant, Louis Bessemer, of Denver, came to Craig Monday evening and met with the officers and directors for a personal interview but no definite conclusion has been arrived at today.

The directors are entering into a lease agreement for the two small rooms in the Griffith building, the rooms formerly occupied by the Gift shop.

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Employees and board members from the Craig Chamber of Commerce pose Thursday prior to the organization’s 65th anniversary celebration. The chamber has served the business community in Craig since its formation on Oct. 2, 1946. Pictured, from left, are Executive Assistant Rebekah Greenwood, Jeff Smith, Steve Herman, Don Jones, Gail Severson, Renee Campbell, Sportsman Information Specialist Rob Schmitzer, Office Assistant Shannon Russell, Executive Director Christina Oxley and Board President Mardi Anson.

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A cake commemorates the Craig Chamber of Commerce’s 65th anniversary. A celebration was held during an after-hours mixer Thursday at the chamber’s office, 360 E. Victory Way.

On Oct. 16, 1946, The Craig Empire-Courier published a five-paragraph story on its front page chronicling the beginning of a community icon — the Craig Chamber of Commerce.

The story said the officers of the newly formed organization met for dinner in the banquet room of the Cosgriff Hotel. Afterward, the “business of the club was discussed until eleven o’clock.”

More than half a century later, the organization lives on.

Oct. 2 marks the official 65th anniversary of the Craig Chamber of Commerce, but the organization hosted a celebration a few months early. On Thursday, chamber staff, board, business and community members gathered on the lawn at 360 E. Victory Way for a Business After-Hours Mixer, and an opportunity to reflect on the groups long-running history.

And those involved with the chamber said a lot has changed with the organization since 1946.

In its original articles of incorporation, the purpose of the chamber was to advance “commercial, industrial, civic and general interests of the town of Craig, Colorado, and (the) surrounding territory.”

While those goals still hold true, the founders of the chamber may not have foreseen a major function of today’s organization — tourism.

In broad terms, technological advances in personal computing over the past two decades have changed the way people gather information.

Travelers seldom consult with travel agencies or call airlines to book flights. Instead, many people are armed with laptops, GPS units, smartphones and the like.

And those same tools allow people to choose businesses and services and receive step-by-step instructions to their brick-and-mortar locations.

Nonetheless, Christina Oxley, executive director of the Craig Chamber of Commerce and its Moffat County Visitor Center, said the sexagenarian organization remains relevant.

“It’s different here,” she said of Moffat County. “If I’m going to Denver, I can search the Internet and have my entire trip planned,” she said. “I can know where I’m going to eat, where I’m going to stay, how much it costs to go to the water park, I can book play tickets. In a city like that, I can do it all online.”

Navigating Moffat County, on the other hand, is better accomplished through one-on-one conversations, she said.

First, much of Moffat County isn’t documented on the Internet, she said. Second, a personal touch provides comfort.

“You’re not going to find hiking trails or the ATV trails for Sandwash (Basin) online,” she said. “You’re not going to find out if the campsites are really buggy this time of year, or if the water is up to the campsites, or if you can fish.

“So much of why people come to Moffat County is outdoor recreation, and most of that information, you’re just not going to find on the Internet. Being able to talk to a human being who can say, ‘Yes, I was out there last week and the campsites aren’t flooded’ — that intimate knowledge of what could be a pretty dangerous backcountry trip is critical.”

The visitor center serves between 13,000 and 16,000 people every year, Oxley said.

“That’s how many people we have contact with either walking through the door, calling us on the phone or who we mail information to,” she said.

The visitor center, which opened in October 1989, might be the crowning achievement in the chamber’s long history, Oxley said.

“This building was a huge accomplishment,” she said. “The chamber had always been kind of a homeless organization. It was a really, really big deal … to be able to raise enough money and garner enough support to put up the building.”

At its inception, the Craig Chamber of Commerce leased “two small rooms in the Griffith building,” according to The Craig Empire-Courier. From there, it was housed in a random assortment of locations including the Marcia Car, the Moffat County Road and Bridge Department and the Centennial Mall.

Gail Severson, who served as chamber director for about six years beginning in the mid-1980s, said it was a tough time to begin a capital project. The economy was on the skids, and the chamber was suffering from some bad choices.

“When I took over the chamber, it was in a financial bind,” Severson said. “The chamber people had hired a high roller. He believed in going first class, and he spent all kinds of money that the chamber didn’t have.”

Severson said she replaced that director and worked to save the organization.

“I did everything I could do for a $50 membership,” she said. “Those were the days when you’d walk up and down the sidewalk and introduce yourself and ask for a $50 membership to help get us back on our feet.”

Once the organization was stable again, Severson said she began raising funds for a permanent home base. The fundraisers were successful.

“We paid cash for the building,” said Severson, who is now a chamber board member.

Today, the Bureau of Land Management, Colorado Division of Wildlife, Colorado State Parks, U.S. Forest Service, Moffat County Tourism Association and the chamber support the visitor center, Severson said.

In addition to providing support for tourists, the chamber also provides business services, Oxley said. The chamber offers business classes, marketing assistance, networking opportunities, legislative advocacy and more for its members.

A large part of the chamber’s operating funds come from members. In return, the chamber provides referrals to those businesses when visitors inquire.

Craig resident Al Shepherd said he owns the oldest business in town. Shepherd’s father founded Shepherd & Sons Plumbing & Heating in 1924, and Shepherd and his brother bought the business in 1964.

Shepherd said his business has likely been a member of the chamber since its early days.

“I think we were probably one of the original chamber members,” he said.

Shepherd said his business remains a member to this day, and his membership will continue into the future.

“I can’t really pin down that it’s ever really done anything for my business, but I know it has,” he said.

Besides, membership in the chamber represents more than an effort to drum up business, he said.

“It’s being part of the community,” he said.

Oxley said the referral service continues to provide value in the digital age. Its online business directory at www.craig-chamber.com received about 75,000 hits last year.

“It’s a huge piece of what we do,” she said of referrals. “We’ve got this clout because we are a chamber. That’s where people go to look for information.”

Clout is part of the reason Severson thinks the chamber is positioned to continue.

“Honestly, when I travel, and I stop, I don’t look for the state welcome center,” she said. “I look for the Chamber of Commerce, because it’s just common sense that they know all about their community.”

Severson added that the chamber experience is more valuable than gathering information from the Internet.

All the same, Oxley said she’s making plans for the future.

“I think our most active committee this year has been our technology committee. We’re looking in terms of upgrading our website, getting some more interactive features and trying to figure out how social networking plays a role in what we do.”

Severson said survival alone is testament to the organization’s success.

“Sixty five years is a long time,” she said. “I think if we weren’t doing things right, we wouldn’t be able to survive.”

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