Growing business and building community since 1919, the Charleston Area Chamber of Commerce will celebrate its Centennial this year. Originally called the Charleston Merchants Association, the Chamber was founded by Charles L. Lee. Mr. Lee was the owner and publisher of the Charleston Daily Courier, which is now the Journal Gazette- Times Courier. Mr. Lee was described by his contemporaries as being a dynamic, civic-minded leader. Other founding members included; C.E Winters as the Vice President, H.C Welch as the secretary, and H.A Cottingham as the treasurer. The founding Chamber of Commerce was similar to the current Chamber of Commerce in that the mission of the organization was to serve as a lead catalyst for business development and economic growth in Charleston, while also acting as an advocate for current business and members.
In 1919, the founding Chamber of Commerce was comprised of 175 businesses and individual professionals. The founding Board and the members were a driving force in getting new business in the community. Interestingly, the Chamber was instrumental in wooing the Brown Shoe Company to Charleston. Members of the Chamber visited the Brown Shoe headquarters in St. Louis to advocate on behalf of opening a factory in Charleston and presented a plan which included offers of land, water, and a promise of a good labor market. The Company agreed but asked that $150,000 was raised by the city to offset costs. Mr. Lee and leaders in the Chamber commissioned signs that read “It Can Be Done” to hang in the windows of all local business and resident’s homes. Fundraisers were held and by late August 1919, the money was raised and an agreement had been drawn to open the factory in Charleston.
100 years later, the Charleston Area Chamber of Commerce continues to act as an advocate for developing and growing the community and serving as a member focused organization. Celebrating 100 years of growing business and building our community is certainly an exciting milestone and one I look forward to sharing with you all in the coming year. The Chamber is busy planning exciting events to commemorate this milestone; stay tuned to see what we have in store!