April 22, 2018
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Chamber Of Commerce Marks 60 Years Of Business-Community Relations

Dylan Roche
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February 8, 2017

Imagine Severna Park in the mid-20th century. Although the community had been established for about 50 years, it was still a quaint, mostly undeveloped town along the Baltimore & Annapolis Railroad.

But a period of growth was imminent. Developers were beginning to build communities. More residents meant a greater need for groceries, hardware, pharmaceuticals and other necessities.

“Prior to development, it had been a much sleepier place,” said Pat Troy, executive director of the Association for Severna Park Improvement, Renewal and Enhancement (ASPIRE). “You had Linstead and Round Bay and Cape Arthur, but none of the communities along Benfield Road. This was kind of a time when Severna Park sensed it was going to be growing, and businesses needed to stick together.”

According to Betty Winkelmeyer Wells, whose family has owned the Winkelmeyer Building along Baltimore-Annapolis Boulevard since her father, Walt Winkelmeyer, opened his coal and feed yard (later a hardware store) in 1949, the reasons for sticking together were twofold. “Dad knew that the new businesses coming in needed to have the support of existing businesses,” she said. Furthermore, the businesses that were already established needed to stand up for one another as infrastructure was being created all around them. “You didn’t want the county messing with roads and taking away your business,” she said.

Walt Winkelmeyer teamed up with a few of his fellow business owners — probably about 25 in total, if Wells had to guess — to form the Severna Park Chamber of Commerce, today known as the Greater Severna Park and Arnold Chamber of Commerce.

Winkelmeyer served as the first president in 1957, and the chamber quickly became popular. Fees were low, paying only for the paper processing, and membership included everyone from storeowners to Tupperware ladies. “They all wanted to be part of it,” Wells recalled.

Many members today see the chamber as one of the reasons Severna Park thrived as a community. “The population of Severna Park was growing over the years, and more and more businesses were fulfilling the needs of people in the area,” said John Barranco, president of the chamber’s board of directors, whose father, Bob, opened their family business, Barranco & Sons Funeral Home, in 1960 and served as president in 1962. “I remember my parents had groceries delivered by Listman’s; there was a produce man who used to drive around; doctors would make house calls. It’s changed quite a bit since then,” Barranco said. “The chamber has helped businesses succeed because it’s a network and it offers the opportunity to connect with others.”

In addition to holding networking events and serving as a legislative voice, the chamber began holding community events for the enrichment of local culture, most notably in 1975 with the Severna Park Fourth of July Parade.

For 27 of the chamber’s 60 years, the work of Linda Zahn in the role of executive director, later the CEO, has increased its membership and its presence in the community. “She has taken it to higher levels than I could have ever expected,” said Meg Anderson, who served as president of the chamber in 1989, the year Zahn was hired. “She’s smart; she’s charming; she’s able to get along with people and convince them to take the next steps.”

When Zahn assumed the job, she was determined to see the chamber grow. “There wasn’t a whole lot going on. I just saw the potential. I thought this thing could be so much,” she said. “If you don’t try to make something of it, you’re always going to be stuck. I just tried to make it bigger, make it better, do more things, bring in people.”

The chamber took office in the historic Regester Building on Holly Avenue in 1995, turning what was once a private residence into a functional community meeting room.

Over the years that followed, the calendar filled up with community events — not only the Fourth of July Parade but also the Christmas tree lighting ceremony, the Shop Local Family Fun Festival and the annual trade fair.

The chamber’s efforts to promote shopping local have resonated with residents. “Even when the economy was rough, I knew Severna Park was always strong because the people support the merchants,” Wells said, adding that the chamber’s mission is every bit as relevant today as it was in decades past because it helps entrepreneurs get the exposure they need. “I know so many people now, especially women in business, who have businesses at home,” she said. “They’ve had this dream, and you can make this dream something. You need the chamber if you’re working out of your home. You don’t have a storefront or a sidewalk.”

Throughout 2017, the chamber plans to incorporate a little bit of 60th-anniversary celebration into each one of its signature events. An inaugural crab feast will be launched to pay tribute to the milestone year, and the Fourth of July Parade will be themed “The Fabulous ‘50s” in homage to the era when the chamber began.

Barranco said that in his role as president, he hopes to be more involved with each one of the celebrations, and he hopes more members of the community will join him in doing so. “I want to participate in more of the events that the chamber offers,” he said. “If there are ways we can reach out to more people, I want to reach out and get people involved. Getting more people involved in the events would be great.”

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