“I believe everything happens for a reason,” says Jan, between bites of her two-roll special at the newly opened Wild Ginger Asian Restaurant on Washington Street in downtown Hinsdale, “I know that I was meant to do this job and I love it.”
When Jan’s daughters were old enough for her to return to work, she held a series of part-time jobs. One day, on a visit to a friend of hers who was working for the Hinsdale Chamber, her friend suggested that they work together. “Of course I said ‘yes,’’ Jan remembers. “I think my friend thought I was kidding at first but I’d never been more serious. It wasn’t long before my friend moved on and I was leading the Chamber. I’ve never looked back.”
The Hinsdale Chamber of Commerce is a group of retail, professional, and business people banded together as an organization to promote the economic well-being of the community. In order to maintain a prosperous, attractive business district, it is necessary that such an organization exist. The chamber organizes promotional events for its merchant members; it sponsors civic activities such as the summer Fine Arts Festival, Uniquely Thursdays concert series, and the Farmers Market. It also provides for display of the American flag during holidays and coordinates the purchase of decorations for Hinsdale’s downtown streets at Christmastime. Today, the Chamber has 277 members and continues to grow.
In Jan’s tenure, she’s witnessed big changes to Hinsdale’s historic business district, including removing the village’s ban on alcohol sales and allowing it to be served in restaurants. “That was a huge economic boost for Hinsdale. We wouldn’t have the amazing restaurants we have today if our village leaders hadn’t had the foresight to change those laws when they did.”
Attracting new business—and driving foot traffic to them—is at the cornerstone of the Chamber of Commerce’s mission and the programs it offers. With more than 90 years of helping the village advance, the Chamber knows what businesses need to succeed.
“It’s not easy to be a small business today,” explains Jan. “With the convenience of online shopping, or the ease to travel to nearby big-box stores and malls, it’s really important for people to think about keeping their tax dollars at home and supporting our local businesses.”
When Jan’s not leading a Chamber meeting or sharing ideas and collaborating with peers from other west suburban communities, she’s spearheading events to bring more people into Hinsdale’s downtown and ultimately draw more customers into our businesses. With the summer concert series Uniquely Thursdays coming to an end, Jan’s focus is currently on the beloved Hinsdale Christmas Walk scheduled this year for Friday, December 5. “It’s our 49th annual Hinsdale Christmas Walk and it’s something that the village and our businesses really look forward to—and count on,” she says. “Even last year when we had those frigid temperatures—when we secretly worried no one would come—we had a record turnout.”
It’s amazing to think that these comprehensive, village-wide programs are run with Jan’s limited staff, which includes only herself and two others—Eva Field and Kimberly Clements. “We may be a small staff but we love working with our Chamber members and Hinsdale business commmunity. And I have to say that we have the best, dedicated, hardworking team of volunteers I could ever ask for! We really believe in the programs we offer.”
It won’t be long and Cookie the Gingerbread Man will be turning up in new adventures in local businesses looking to draw you in to do your holiday shopping. “We’ve changed how Cookie is going to make his way through the village this year, but I think people—especially the children—are really going to like it.”
– Ann Marie Scheidler // Illustration by Kirsten Ulve