Members Only? Sifting Through Local Business Associations



Studio 8 is located in Oak Park’s “Garfield-Harlem” Business District

Last week I introduced the Chamber’s “Building Better Business Districts” project.  As we begin to roll out the online directory to the business community, we are encountering familiar questions regarding the role of business organizations in town. 


What is the difference between a chamber of commerce, a tourism bureau, a business district and a development center?  Every town takes a different approach.  Here is how Oak Park delineates roles:

The tourism organization “Visit Oak Park” serves twenty-one area communities.  Its sole purpose is to drive visitors to Oak Park, whether for tourism, weddings, day trips or business meetings.  Visit Oak Park focuses its marketing on Chicago and people outside a fifty-mile radius through advertising, guidebooks and its website.  The organization is funded by taxes on hotel stays as well as grants from the local municipalities.  Visit Oak Park also has a membership option for businesses that want to be featured in tourism marketing.

The Oak Park Economic Development Corporation is funded entirely by the Village of Oak Park.  It focuses on new investment and development, whether from new construction, rehabs or business expansion.  Their chief role is to provide expertise and recommendations while working to attract investment to the community.  OPEDC does not provide loans or grants and is not a membership group.  Any business interested in opening or expanding in Oak Park is encouraged to call them. 

Business districts are merchant associations in the commercial neighborhoods.  The twelve districts organize sidewalk sales, holiday lighting and street fairs.  Other than Downtown Oak Park, these are volunteer-run organizations.  Some charge dues for membership and most focus on street-level merchants and restaurants.

Finally, the Chamber of Commerce is a membership organization that acts as an information resource and voice for businesses throughout the area.  It offers special networking, programming and promotion opportunities for members.  Excluding this project grant, the Chamber does not receive funding from the Village – it is an independent organization.

Businesses many choose to be part of all three membership organizations or none at all. Regardless of membership, all businesses will appear in the Chamber’s online Oak Park business directory.

This post also appears on the Chamber’s blog on


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