As I’ve biked around Lopez over the past six months, meeting so many people and hearing their stories, the biggest impression left on me is that Lopez is a community in transition. New businesses are popping up, established businesses are expanding, farms are growing, and new families are settling. It seems Lopez has a renewed purpose. That impression was confirmed for me Thursday morning as I listened to update after update at the annual Lopez Chamber of Commerce meeting held at the Galley.
Chamber board member, Rhea Miller, said it best as she and Elizabeth Metcalf presented the plans for a renovated Chamber office: “With so much expansion, new businesses and new visitors coming to our island, we have to keep up with how we communicate ‘Lopez style’ – so we don’t come across as the island that time left behind.” On the contrary, Lopez has long been a progressive community. Today’s meeting was a nice reminder of why that is. Here are just a few of the updates from the meeting that prove it:
· Lopez Library director, Lou Pray, presented what the library is doing to take advantage of grant money to promote digital literacy on Lopez. They’ve enhanced the library’s “digital hub” to provide things like short video trainings for digital skills – from how to create a formula in Excel to how to build a web site. The library now allows people to check out a long list of equipment – from iPads to projectors. If you have a library card, you can check out movies from Hoopla (Netflix for libraries) – for free – either streamed or downloaded to your device. They also offer Flipster, which is a similar, free service for professional or scholarly journals. Rosetta Stone is also offered – for free – to those learning foreign languages.
· For the first time in its existence, the Chamber is hiring a paid executive director to run the organization. This person will take over the duties that Becky Smith has performed (without pay) for the past several years – joining Lia Noreen and Emily Metcalf in the (soon-to-be-renovated) Chamber office. Applications are being accepted until March 6. Turning this into a paid position speaks volumes for the evolution of the Chamber and the demands of an improving business climate on the island.
· The budget for the year was unanimously approved by the meeting attendees. Besides the new director, a significant change is that San Juan County may very likely be taking over the maintenance of Village Park, which has historically been one of the biggest budget line items for the Chamber. This would be great news for Lopez business owners, as chamber funds could go more directly toward promoting business on the island.
· Traffic to the Chamber’s web site is up dramatically. Ann Palmer, who has managed the site for years, will be completely revamping the site – making it easier to navigate and optimized for all mobile devices.
· Preparations are in full swing for the April 25th Tour De Lopez, the island’s most popular annual event. After only a few weeks, registration for the ride is half full. More restaurants are signing up for the Bite of Lopez on the Friday night before the ride. Two bands (Los Hermanos and Isle Zen) have been secured to provide pre- and post-ride entertainment. Washington State Ferries have added an extra run to Lopez on the morning of the ride. They’ve also agreed to provide free parking Thursday through Sunday for riders who leave a car at the Anacortes terminal.
· To make sure Lopez looks its best for the Tour De Lopez, The Great Island Cleanup is being organized for April 18th – just ahead of Earth Day. Interested volunteers should contact the Dump for details on how to get involved and what costumes to wear.
· Becky reminded everybody about the huge opportunity to apply for grants funded by the San Juan County 2% lodging tax. Nearly half a million dollars is available for grants ranging in size from $1,000 to $25,000. So, if you have a tourism-related project that meets the criteria, you should consider applying.
· Seven board members were unanimously elected: Monte Cook, Marjoe Davidson, Cindy Guenther, Elizabeth Metcalf, Rhea Miller, Lia Noreen and Becky Smith (who will stick around on the board long enough to fully transition to the new, yet-to-be-hired director)
For sure, these are all great developments for an island that shows, again and again, how it punches above its weight. This being my first full chamber meeting, I was struck by the closeness of the members. On the surface this was a board meeting, but it felt more like a family reunion. And that is what sets Lopez apart.
Interested in getting involved in the Lopez Chamber of Commerce? Do what I did: stop by the chamber’s office. You can find it in the Mixby app.