Eastern Chamber gets nostalgic

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One hundred years of service.

That's quite an achievement for any organization, so why not celebrate? If you're the Chamber of Commerce of Eastern Connecticut - which traces its lineage to the former New London Businessmen's Association and the Norwich Businessmen's Association - it should be cause for a big, bold bash.

And that's exactly what the Waterford-based regional chamber will do next month when it expects more than 500 to step out in style at its 100th Anniversary Ball (1910-2010) at the tony Mystic Marriott Hotel & Spa.

Tony Sheridan, president and chief executive officer of the chamber, says he'll dress appropriately for the event: top hat, tails and a cane, of course.

All are encouraged to dress in 1910 to 1920s garb - Edwardian and Flapper era - although it's perfectly fine to come in today's evening or business attire.

The most important thing, says Sheridan, is to show up, have a good time and revel in the 100 years of history of eastern Connecticut's business community.

There will be a swing band, memorabilia, exhibits of local firms that can tout a century (or more) of service to eastern Connecticut and a few skits to liven up the night's festivities.

"We've done a lot of work, and a fair amount of research, for this occasion," he adds, including a booklet chronicling the past 100 years of commerce and commercial successes locally. "And lots of old photos of businesses in the region," says Sheridan.

Sheridan says that during the chamber's research into old documents a story from The Day in 1912 talks about a joint outing of businesses from New London in the south to Putnam in the north, to discuss matters of mutual concern.

"So the whole concept of regionalism was very much in the minds of people (in 1912)," he says. "And here we are 100 years later, struggling with regionalism," he quips.

Today's chamber traces its origins back to 1910, the same year that this country was mourning the death of Mark Twain.

The New London Business Men's Association and the Norwich Business Men's Association were both formed in 1910, according to chamber records, to properly "forward the mercantile interests" of the city.

Today, the regional chamber - a product of the 2001 merger of the New London-based Chamber of Commerce of Southeastern Connecticut and the Norwich-based Chamber of Commerce of Eastern Connecticut - represents the broad interests of 42 towns and cites in eastern Connecticut and can boast of more than 1,600 members. The chamber's charitable foundation has awarded more than $605,000 to groups in need since its formation in 2002.

Sheridan says the chamber's century-long history includes surviving the many ups and downs of a regional economy, including this current tepid recovery from the stinging Great Recession.

The chamber is now among the largest in the state and has moved into the digital era through its expanding website at www.chamberect.com, along with its Facebook, Twitter and Flickr social-media offerings. It also has strategic partnerships with the state Department of Economic and Community Development, the SouthEastern Connecticut Enterprise Region and the Connecticut Development Authority as well as local groups like New London Main Street.

The chamber also has affiliations with the U.S. Department of Commerce, the U.S. Small Business Administration, the Eastern Connecticut Work Force Investment Board and SCORE, which offers free assistance to small business. It also offers its members an Insurance Resource Center.

But Sheridan says such noteworthy successes won't be the main focus of the Nov. 5 celebration.

"The intent of the evening," says Sheridan, "is to have fun. It's not going to be terribly serious."

If you go:

Who: The Chamber of Commerce of Eastern Connecticut

What: 100th Anniversary Ball

When: Friday, Nov. 5

Where: Mystic Marriott Hotel & Spa, Groton

Reception: 6 p.m.

Dinner and performances: 7 p.m.

Dancing: 8:30 p.m.

Cost: $80 per person

RSVP: www.chamberect.com or (860) 701-9113

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