In 1963, American president John F. Kennedy sat in the White House, the Beach Boys harmonized on transistor radios and the spirit of volunteerism and community was on full display at the Powell River wharf.
A group of local business people, and other volunteers, gathered to pour a concrete slab for the distinctive, blue A-frame building that became the place of operations for Powell River Chamber of Commerce.
JFK was assassinated before the end of that year and the Beach Boys have receded into the background of our consciousness.
All the while, the local chamber of commerce still functions as an integral component to the engine of the Powell River business community. However, the landmark building is showing age spots and is in need of upgrades that are, finally, in the cards for the little structure by the sea.
Earlier this year, Powell River Community Forest answered the call for help with a $25,000 grant to specifically address the building’s need for renovations, which will take the form of interior and exterior paint, flooring, lighting, modern furnishings and shiny new windows. A new computer, phones and other current technology will be added to the upgrades.
“We are incredibly thankful and excited for this funding,” said chamber president Cory Carr. “It’s an opportunity to do these much-needed updates. Making a healthy working environment that’s warm and inviting is our top priority.”
For the last 20 years, chamber manager Kim Miller has been welcoming visitors to the building. Her office is a typical mid-renovation scene of drop sheets, ladders and a multitude of cardboard boxes: a fresh coat of light beige paint gives the small space a clean, almost urban feel. However, the threadbare dullish grey carpet remains in place and displays the wear of heavy foot traffic over decades of use. Outdated 1970s electric baseboard heaters have been plucked off the walls and sit neatly piled near the front door.
The rest of the furniture looks as if it was stolen from the set of Madmen, the popular television show that takes place in the business environment of the early 1960s.
When asked why the renovations seem long overdue, Miller explained the conundrum the chamber found itself in.
“With a concise mandate to be an independent advocate for local business with mainly membership funding, the chamber finds itself in a unique scenario mostly due to its location,” she said. “It has organically evolved into a tourist and community information hub, and due to this widened role, there have been unique financial constraints.”
Miller said that under the Board of Trade Act, chambers of commerce are mostly ineligible for any other sources of funding, such as gaming grants. However, she said she has embraced her dual role.
“Everyday is a chance to meet people and promote the business community,” she added.
It is easy to see how the blue roofed, A-frame building has evolved into a default tourist hub. The inside has a warm, welcoming vibe and the structure is within a frisbee throw of a crowded convergence of ferry goers and boat marina users.
The structure’s picturesque waterfront setting empathizes its need for some attention and care. Aside from the inherent postcard beauty of the surroundings, it is a strategic spot to welcome business and recreation travellers.
For decades now and continuing on, the building has been and is a welcoming beacon for transient boaters, prospective investors, new residents, the business community and anyone else who comes by. Miller said it is also a place to find friendly guidance toward Powell River’s diverse and plentiful business options.