This was not your typical Chamber of Commerce meeting, the kind with coffee and fruit salad, starting at an earnest 8 a.m. No, what took place on Saturday night was a full baccanalia, a 100-year flood of festivity. Which was appropriate, since the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce was determined to mark the 100th anniversary of its founding in a memorable way.
That business goal was achieved. Few of the nearly 1,000 party-goers at the downtown Marriott hotel will forget being greeted at the door by Serpentina, the Coney Island snake charmer wrapped in a very large reptile. Nor are they likely to forget the sword swallower, the marching band, the mountain of shrimp and oysters, or the free-flowing beverages. “I want you to know you’re drinking only Brooklyn-made beer, wine and spirits. So you’re supporting the local economy,” toasted Andrew Hoan, the Chamber’s CEO and president.
The celebrants were duly impressed. “This is amazing to see,” said Juan Perez, CEO of Highbrid Media, a multicultural marketing company. “I’ve been to many chamber galas, but this is a momentous occasion.”
At the podium, Hoan ticked off the markers of Brooklyn’s growth and renaissance: “We continue on the path to being the third-largest city in America by 2020,” he said, adding that the borough has produced eight consecutive years of private-sector job growth and now boasts a $110 billion economy. “Brooklyn is an economic force to be reckoned with,” he said. Chamber chairperson Denise Arbesu, the first female and first Latina in that role, said that among the group’s accomplishments, she is most proud of establishing Brooklyn Alliance Capital, which makes loans to small businesses owned by women, minorities and immigrants.
While booming Brooklyn may feel like the real center of New York City right now, as one presenter noted, there was also a sense of look-how-far-we’ve-come. Several in the crowd recalled that the “outer borough” description was once painfully accurate. “I grew up here, we’re a five-generation Brooklyn family. Back in the day, no one wanted to live here,” said Laura Imperiale, founder and CEO of Athena Consulting Group. “But now there’s been such an economic revitalization due to organizations like the Chamber that are really putting Brooklyn back on the map.”
Craig Matthews, who led the Chamber in the 1990s, recalled: “Back when I was chairman, we were trying to promote the heck out of of Brooklyn. We were big supporters of this hotel and its construction. The chamber only had a couple of hundred members and now there are thousands. This is an exciting event and very well-deserved.”
Asked what the Chamber does for them, many celebrants cited the networking opportunities. Said Donald Boomgaarden, president of St. Joseph’s College, “We create connections with business people here for our students.” Regina Scire, a vice president of Investors Bank, a New Jersey-based company that started expanding into Brooklyn only a few years ago, said the Chamber helped introduce them to their new neighbors. “We attend all their business mixers. They helped us get our brand out in the borough,” she said.
One gaggle of partygoers was conspicuous for the vehicle they parked out front: a large red bus from Big Bus Tours, which calls itself “the largest operator of open-top sightseeing tours in the world.” Four years ago, the company started offering bus-tour loops through Brooklyn; now it’s lobbying with authorities to add more stops in the borough. Emblematic of Brooklyn’s growth as a tourist destination, said Jeremy Medanich, the local trade-sales manager: “On my ride here from Greenpoint, I passed six new hotels on the way.”
But perhaps the best grace note to the whole extravaganza was offered by Marie Roberts, an artist-in-residence at Coney Island USA, who painted the event’s amusement-themed murals: “Brooklyn is opportunity for everybody.”
What follows is a gallery of party photos from the Chamber’s big night out: