Despite some objections, the Winnetka Village Council voted Tuesday night to spend $6,500 to renew its Chicago’s North Shore Convention and Visitors Bureau membership for another year.
Winnetka joined the organization in February 2010 at the request of the Winnetka Community House, the Winnetka-Northfield Chamber of Commerce and several village businesses. A community must be a member of the bureau before its businesses and organizations can join, and Winnetka now has 14 individual memberships, including the Winnetka Community House, The Hadley School for the Blind and Avli Estiatorio. Other member communities include Evanston, Glenview, Skokie and Northbrook.
The organization promotes its members via its website, Facebook page, Twitter feeds, emails and includes them in print brochures distributed at local hotels. Chicago's North Shore Convention and Visitors Bureau ran three events in Winnetka in the past year, with a fourth planned for late August.
Investment in local retailers
Winnetka Director of Community Development Michael D’Onofrio said that a survey of 10 of the village’s members showed that most were in favor of renewal. Some, like Material Possessions, said that they had not received direct benefit from the organization, but thought it might help the village’s businesses overall. The Winnetka Park District and Restaurant Michael will not be renewing their membership, the latter saying that the organization did nothing to help them.
Winnetka-Northfield Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Terry Dason said that village's support is important to local businesses during tough times for retail. She said that the bureau’s promotion helped bring more shoppers to the chamber’s sidewalk sale July 20 and 21.
“The small investment that the Village of Winnetka has given to our businesses through the bureau has helped bring in business from the outside,” she said.
Membership a waste of money
Beat Street Gift Shop owner Julie Windsor said foot traffic for her business is down, but that she doesn’t believe the bureau membership will help.
“We're spending money on surveys and bureaus and we need to just talk to business owners,” she said. “They know what they want.”
Council member Richard Kates was the lone dissenting vote, asking why only 14 of the village’s more than 200 businesses and organizations had joined. He suggested producing a Winnetka-only equivalent of the bureau’s book, which Dason said would be very expensive.
“I do not see the benefits of this,” he said. “If it was so great a benefit to the community more of our businesses would be members. It was supposed to be an experiment. To me it hasn't worked.”
Council member Jennifer Spinney attributed the low membership number to many businesses being short on money due to the recession. She voted in favor of renewal, saying she believed that it offered businesses a lot of “bang for their buck” when it came to advertising.
“I'm looking at a $6,500 investment by us for the business community across the board in Winnetka, and I think that's a good value,” she said.
Council member Jack Buck suggested that the village challenge the bureau to increase its individual members if it wants to be renewed again, but agreed that membership helps make tourists aware of Winnetka.
“The village is hurting, so if it helps a little, it helps a little,” he said.