PUNXSUTAWNEY — The Punxsutawney Chamber of Commerce, in it’s most basic sense, is the glue that holds the community together, responsible for many behind-the-scenes projects that support Punxsy.
“We are really the front desk for the community,” Executive Director Marlene Lellock said. “It’s the place that people from out of town, if they want to know anything about the community — whether they want to move here, locate a business here, or come to visit — we are the place they call.”
But starting in November — for the first time in 10 years — the Chamber began asking businesses and members of the community to donate to a capital campaign.
The Chamber has received some donations, but sadly, it is not enough.
In 2011, the Chamber was hit hard financially, as an ice storm that occurred during Groundhog Day lowered the attendance at Gobbler’s Knob significantly.
As a result, sales at Phil’s Souvenir Shop — from which proceeds are shared between the Chamber and the Groundhog Festival Committee — decreased, and normal sales for Feb. 1-2 were cut in half.
From 2002 to 2009, the Chamber and the souvenir shop saw great profits from the Ty Punxsy Phil Beanie Babies. But since Ty ceased production of the plush toys, the shop has seen a large drop in its income.
Already, the Chamber has been forced to cut employees’ hours. And If the Chamber does not emerge from this financial challenge, further programs and funding for projects could also be cut.
Lellock explained that the Chamber is a membership organization, in which members pay dues and receive benefits to help their businesses.
There are 276 businesses that belong to the Chamber, or only a third of the potential businesses that could be join, she said.
The Chamber is no different from other Chambers in the state, as most do not received enough funding from the memberships alone to have enough capital to fund programs, and must make a profit by other means.
In Punxsy’s case, the souvenir shop used to cover that gap for the Chamber.
The Chamber doesn’t just help businesses,but also helps with PRIDE; the Punxsutawney Area Historical & Genealogical Society; Garden Club; and many other organizations.
In addition, the Chamber is responsible for the display and upkeep of many holiday decorations around town, such as the snowflake lights and holiday banners. It also spearheads the annual “Home for the Holidays” parade, with help from a sponsor each year.
Thanks to Groundhog Day’s popularity, the Chamber also performs a number of tourism-related projects, such as conducting, coordinating and guiding bus tours, as well as attracting guests into town to shop and support the local economy.
Perhaps the best example of the Chamber’s tourism work is the “Phantastic Phil!” project.
In addition to operating its Community Gift Check program, the Chamber serves as a sounding board for local lawmakers and council members, hosting the annual legislative breakfasts and luncheons.
“When else does the community have a good time to get together and meet a representative like that,” Chamber Board of Directors President Jeff Curtis said. “If the Chamber wasn’t around, you wouldn’t have that.”
Any business or individual may donate to the Chambers capital campaign. Any amount is accepted, as there is no minimum cost.
For more information, contact the Chamber at (814) 938-7700. Donations can be mailed or dropped off at the Chamber, 102 West Mahoning St., Punxsutawney, Pa. 15767.