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Orleans Chamber celebrating 80 years of advocacy, downtown progress

Carol Johnson, Southern Indiana Business Report

Orleans Chamber celebrating 80 years

ORLEANS – The work to keep downtowns vibrant ebbs and flows, but it never ends. There is always another building needing a tenant or structural repair, another event to plan, or grant to write. 

Downtown revitalization has been a primary focus of the Orleans Chamber of Commerce for the last 25 years. Through partnerships with the town of Orleans and other groups, the Orleans Chamber has planned and sponsored events such as the summer concert series in the park, Dogwood Festival, Orleans Fall Festival and Christmas on the Square. Through the summer and fall, the town square hosts the Orange County HomeGrown market, which draws anywhere from 700 to 1,500 people each Saturday. 

In 2001, work began on a major renovation of the town square.

“That was the beginning of our commitment to revitalizing the historic downtown area,” said Robert Henderson. “The chamber has been the driving force of downtown revitalization but it’s been a partnership.”  

Henderson is the Chamber’s first-ever executive director. He previously served as the group’s longtime president and CEO. 

The Orleans Chamber of Commerce is celebrating its 80-year anniversary this year.

The group has spearheaded a large number of beautification projects, such as welcome signs, street banners, holiday decorations, floral displays and the enhancement of downtown storefronts.

Semi-annual beautification awards are presented to encourage businesses and residents throughout the community to create a more appealing and attractive local environment.

Like most downtowns, Orleans doesn’t look like the downtown of Henderson’s childhood when it had a locally owned clothing store, drug store, movie theater and cafe. It’s tempting to pine for the good ol’ days, but Henderson said community leaders have to look ahead if their downtowns are going to prosper.

“Maintaining a sense of history is important,” he said. “We want Orleans to be a place people want to call home, but you also have to explore different possibilities for the downtown to keep it viable and alive for residents and visitors.”

The addition of Speakeasy Pizza and El Compadre, both restaurants on the square, “have been game changers,” Henderson said, bringing an influx of visitors from outside Orleans. 

The Monon South Trail, which will run through Orleans for 8 miles, will be another opportunity for the town.

Even with popular restaurants, a farmers market named one of the best small markets in the United States, it can still be difficult to get people to invest in old downtown buildings, he said. 

“Downtown revitalization is never done, there’s always a challenge up ahead,” he said.

Chamber established in 1944

The Orleans Chamber is celebrating its 80th anniversary this year. It was established in 1944 by a group of residents seeking to advance the business, economic and civic interests of their community.

Today the organization has a broader purpose.  According to a press release, its common focus is the future growth and development of the Orleans community and overall quality of life – all in addition to the Chamber’s original intent.

Chamber community engagement 

In addition to downtown events, other Chamber initiatives include legislative forums for the public to meet with state lawmakers and Business After Hours networking for local businesses.

More than 90 members strong, the Orleans Chamber of Commerce is governed by a 12-member board of directors who represent a broad range of local interests. 

The Orleans Chamber of Commerce’s directors and officers include Board Chair Thomas Lamb of Mid-Southern Savings, Vice President Randy Clark of the Town of Orleans, Secretary Vicki Gross of the Progress Examiner, Treasurer Janelle Springer of Springer Insurance and Sunny’s Naturals, Greta Lewellyn of Freestyle Salon & Boutique, Curtis Ralston of Jasper Group, Bonnie Bolinger of Feminine Mystique, Angie Clark of Hoosier Hills Credit Union, Jimmy Ellis of Orleans Community Schools, Michele Hardman of Hardman Promotions and Pat Hall of Pat’s Plants and Gift Shop.

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