As Ucluelet’s business owners excitedly set up their shops for the town’s Midnight Madness festivities on Friday evening, an ominous email was sent out from the chamber of commerce at 5:01 p.m.
The email, signed by chamber manager Melissa Boucha, stated a majority of the chamber’s board members had resigned; effective immediately.
“There will be a meeting of the general membership to discuss and decide the dissolution of the Chamber of Commerce, or continuation as a viable business organization to the community,” it read.
Board member, and past-president, Dian McCreary told the Westerly she is one of at least three of the board’s eight members remaining.
“This just happened and it’s quite a shock and we’re trying to deal with it,” she said.
“It’s very distressing to me because I’ve been on the board for many years…I am not sure what’s going to happen but we don’t want the chamber to fold so we’re going to be meeting to see what we can do.”
McCreary has served on the chamber’s board for about eight years and said the remaining members would meet this week to discuss moving forward.
“We’re struggling financially,” she said declining to speak to specific struggles.
“We’re hoping we can pull through this…I do believe we will have support and we are going to reconstruct the chamber.”
Among those who resigned from the board last week was its now-former president Dave Christensen who told the Westerly it’s time for fresh faces at the helm.
“The chamber’s going through a reorganization and it needs new people with new ideas,” he said adding his term was up at the end of December.
“The chamber needs to go in a new direction and it needs new vision and new blood in there. So, some of us felt it was time that we got off and let it go in that other direction and let some other people step forward.”
He said financial struggles had caused frustration amongst board members.
“There’s been some funding issues. We’ve tried for the last year to come up with solutions and we are having trouble doing that,” he said.
“We’ve tried and it’s not working for us so it’s time we stepped aside and let other people try…because we’re not getting there.”
He said the resignations had nothing to do with Monday’s announcement that Tourism Ucluelet will be taking over visitor services from the chamber.
“I think it’s a very positive thing that Tourism Ucluelet is taking on visitor services. That’s a good thing. That’s certainly not anything to do with this,” he said. “TU’s got the funding. It’s in their mandate to do visitor services and visitor services was very distracting for the chamber. It took up way too much of our time and we lost our focus on business. The chamber needs to focus on business and what we can do for the businesses.”
When asked about Boucha’s email, Christensen said he is confident the chamber would not dissolve and will continue on as a viable organization.
“I would think the community would want to have a chamber of commerce so I would certainly hope some new blood steps forward and reenergizes the chamber. That’s what we need. That’s what the town needs,” he said.
“I did enjoy my time with the chamber and I look forward to seeing where the organization goes in the future.”
Ucluelet mayor Dianne St. Jacques told the Westerly the district would support the chamber.
“Financially they’re having to, as they do every year, look at their budget and figure things out,” she said.
“We feel the chamber is very important to the community and we have said many times that we will support them and see them through the transition they’re going through…We’ll work with them to get things figured out”
She doubted the chamber would ever dissolve and said she believes the organization will continue to serve local businesses moving forward.
“I feel pretty confident about it, definitely hopeful,” she said. “This is just a bump in the road.”
On Wednesday, the chamber sent a message to chamber messages advising that two board members had withdrawn their resignations but four members remained resigned: Christensen, Cathy Whitcomb, Nicky Ling and Sandy Rantz.
The message states the remaining board members met on Tuesday and an Annual General Meeting will be held in February where a vote will be held asking the chamber’s membership to choose whether to “Elect a new board and keep the ship afloat,” or, “Go into dry dock and dismantle the organization.”