Monroe Chamber membership grows with the town economy

The Monroe Chamber of Commerce's annual dinner meeting was held at Jennie's Pizzeria Tuesday.

MONROE, CT — Monroe Chamber of Commerce members welcomed new businesses to town with ribbon cutting ceremonies over the past year, educated members with lunch and learns, hosted a speed networking event, and raised funds for student scholarships with their annual golf tournament.

On Tuesday evening the chamber held its annual dinner meeting at Jennie’s Pizzeria, 380 Monroe Turnpike, to elect officers and present awards and scholarships, while reflecting on the last 12 months.

“Our chamber is strong,” Monroe Chamber President Ray Giovanni told the room full of diners. “Our chamber has grown to about 115 members right now. Since our meeting here in July of last year, we have 35 to 40 new members.”

First Selectman Terry Rooney has attended the ribbon cuttings and met with business owners in town.

“They really appreciate the work the Chamber of Commerce does and the respect the Chamber of Commerce gives them,” Rooney said.

The first selectman talked about the new businesses that have come to town under his predecessor, Ken Kellogg, such as Chipotle and Aldi, and said that momentum is continuing with the revitalization of Bart Center on Main Street, which has been getting an infusion of new tenants.

Rooney said everyone wants a country town, but residents have to understand how important it is for Monroe to grow its commercial tax base to keep things affordable during a period of higher inflation.

Among the guests at the Monroe Chamber of Commerce’s dinner meeting was board member Previn Patel.

Giovanni gave special recognition to some of those in attendance, including Kellogg, who he credited with getting things going in the right direction with his leadership and vision, Tax Collector Deborah Heim and Mary Walsh of the Monroe Lions Club.

He thanked the chamber’s board members and Lee Hossler, the Monroe Chamber of Commerce’s Ambassador, for his work in organizing ribbon cuttings and garnering sponsors for the golf tournament.

Giovanni said the chamber cannot function without the support of its members as the organization strives to keep costs down to maintain and grow its membership. He also welcomed the chamber’s new member businesses.

Electing officers, awards

Andrea Bacigalupo, left, and Chris Gonzalez, right, owners of Hi Paws Dog Grooming, 439 Monroe Turnpike, receive a beautification award from Monroe Chamber of Commerce President Ray Giovanni.

The Monroe Chamber of Commerce elected its board of directors, which includes Giovanni as president, Jan Snyder as vice president, Hossler as ambassador, Treasurer Janice M. Butler, CPA, and Secretary Joanne Almonte.

Other members include Ron Bellenot, Esq., Audra Santos, Gaetano Marra, David Fraga, Bruce Minoff, Wendy Grasso, Jim Weinberg, Previn Patel and Danielle Rownin.

The chamber’s annual scholarships to deserving Monroe high school graduates went to twin brothers, Anthony and Brian Giordano.

The Monroe Chamber of Commerce recognizes businesses with beautification awards. This year’s plaques were awarded to:

  • Biagio Barone, who bought Bart Center at 590 Main St., and is making improvements, including a new driveway and facade, and the infusion of new tenants.
  • Best in Backyards, 615 Main St., which produces swing sets, outdoor furniture and equipment.
  • Auto Kingdom, a full service mechanic shop at 585 Main St.
  • Meet Me Premium Steaks, 464 Main St., known for the high quality of its steak, chicken and fish.
  • Courville Nurseries, 163 Barn Hill Road
  • Galbo Provisions, Inc., 1565 Monroe Turnpike, one of the largest regional distributors of Boar’s Head meat. Owner Anthony Galbo undertook a massive project, converting old buildings on the former Stevenson Lumber property to bring his headquarters to Monroe.
  • Bethel International Ministries, 1565 Monroe Turnpike, which Giovanni credits with transforming a building at the former lumber property to create a beautiful place for its membership.
  • Production Metals, 421 Old Zoar Road, which renovated buildings at the old lumber yard for its offices.
  • Wayback Burgers, which opened in the new building at 143 Purdy Hill Road.
  • Hi Paws Dog Grooming, 439 Monroe Turnpike, whose owners, Chris Gonzalez and Andrea Bacigalupo, were on hand to receive their plaque Tuesday night.

Finances, golf tournament

This year’s golf tournament will be held at Whitney Farms Golf Course in Monroe.

Treasurer Janice Butler went over the chamber’s finances of 2023 at the meeting, reporting a lose of $650 compared to the year before.

“When COVID happened we wanted to lower our membership dues,” she said of the loss of revenue. “Businesses could potentially be struggling. We wanted them to still be members.”

Butler said a sharper focus was placed on the annual golf tournament to raise money for the chamber’s scholarships and operations.

The 2023 tournament brought in $11,120 compared to $13,400 the year before. Butler encourages businesses to participate in the tournament and/or become a sponsor to support the nonprofit.

This year’s golf tournament will be held at Whitney Farms Golf Course on Tuesday, July 9.

The chamber has also faced increased expenses, including insurance, which doubled, and a sizable rate increase from the contractor doing the website and newsletter.

While still hosting fun events and helping its members build partnerships, the Monroe Chamber of Commerce scaled back by not holding parties for Valentine’s Day and Halloween.

“We usually lose money on the annual dinner,” Butler said, adding the organization lost $1,700 last year.

The lunch and learn events are continuing, but without pizzas and the new member breakfast lost $67.

“We’ve been able to have our events and we try to keep them at a lower cost, so businesses can partake without the financial burden,” Butler said.

The chamber is off to a good start so far this year. The six welcome to Monroe signs all have sponsors including Union Savings Bank, Newtown Savings Bank, Better Homes and Gardens Real Estate Gaetano Marra Homes, Spadaccino and Leo P. Gallagher and Son Funeral Home, Superior Signs and Galbo Distributors.

Mr. Monroe

Monroe Chamber President Ray Giovanni, left, with Beth Stoller.

Vice President Jan Snyder and Beth Stoller wanted to give Giovanni a gift to thank him for all he does for the community as president of the chamber, chairman of the Monroe Economic Development Commission and a new member of the Monroe Lions Club.

“He’s like Mr. Monroe. He supports all causes,” Snyder said. “We appreciate everything he does for us.”

“Not only does this man do everything, but he’s got a heart bigger than almost anybody I have ever met,” Stoller said. “If anybody has a Ray story, it is because Ray has helped somebody do something.”

Stoller said they had a hard time figuring out what to get for Giovanni as a gift, because if it was a restaurant gift certificate for instance, he often turns around and gives it to someone else.

“I talked to his wife Nancy,” Stoller said, looking at Giovanni and adding, “and your son helped. This is just for you and another member of your family.”

The women got Giovanni a $150 K-9 training certificate for his chihuahua, Olivia. Both of their names are on the certificate.

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