Meet Karen Riordan, President and Chief Executive Officer of the Greater Williamsburg Chamber & Tourism Alliance since January 2014. With an extensive business and marketing background, including tourism marketing, Karen shares her perspective on the importance of shopping local.
Chesapeake Bank: Please tell us a bit about yourself and your role with the chamber.
Karen Riordan: I started in January and moved with my family in June 2014 from Leesburg, Va. We lived in NoVA for more than eight years, as I had been transferred with my former company to be President of the Washington D.C. office of the firm. I’m originally from New England, having grown up in Rhode Island and then lived outside Boston most of my adult life.
The Greater Williamsburg Chamber & Tourism Alliance is a unique non-profit, in that we are a Chamber and the destination marketing organization (DMO) for tourism to our beautiful area. Our mission is to be the voice of business in Greater Williamsburg. We work to create an environment of economic vitality through advocacy, education and networking to help businesses develop, grow and prosper. As the DMO, we promote the Greater Williamsburg region as a premier year-round travel destination.
Our goals are to support the business community, ensuring individual success and greater prosperity in the entire community. Our committees are member volunteers working in the areas of Government Affairs, Economic Progress, Armed Forces support, Membership, Retention, Health, and Education.
As a new resident of the area, I am so impressed with the community’s hospitality and welcoming approach to visitors and new residents. My family fell in love with the Williamsburg area as tourists ourselves over the last eight years. The advertising firm I worked with had a strong travel tourism practice that included hotels, cruise lines, Amtrak, and Colonial Williamsburg, so I had some professional familiarity with the area.
What many people don’t know is that I am married to a small business entrepreneur and also left a large corporate firm to run my own advertising agency in Virginia. As a former small business leader myself, I completely understand the challenges the tough economy has presented these past six years. I think that experience gives me a strong connection and appreciation for the resourcefulness and dedication it takes to be small business owner.
CB: The chamber has partnered with Chesapeake Bank since 2012 to promote Shop Local Day and generate more awareness and support for the locally-owned and operated businesses in our community. Please share with us your perspective on this initiative.
KR: I have always personally and professionally supported Shop Local initiatives for a number of reasons. It’s good business to support your neighbors and build a community in which others will support you right back. I also love the ability to provide goods and services that are unique to an area – it makes them special as a gift-giver and more meaningful for the recipient. And Shop Local initiatives are sprouting up all over the country for a reason: locally-owned and operated businesses are truly the backbone of every local economy.
Over the years, with jobs transferring overseas and more shoppers shopping online, towns of all sizes have continued to see an increase in vacant storefronts and strip malls. Shop Local reminds citizens how important it is to keep the dollars here at work in our local economy and encourages talented residents and entrepreneurs to invest in a community willing to invest in them.
We should all feel fortunate to live in Williamsburg. It is abundant with wonderful businesses of ALL sizes and types that give back and make our area a great place to both live and visit. Studies show, however, that as much as $0.60 to $0.70 of every dollar spent at a locally-owned business stays at work in the community. In addition, many of our local businesses are unique to this area, adding to its attractiveness as a place to visit. Increasingly, travelers are looking for destinations with a diverse blend of shops and eateries they can’t find at home.
Bottom-line, when a community’s locally-owned businesses are doing well, the entire community thrives.
CB: Do you think Shop Local Day has helped generate more awareness and support for local businesses?
KR: I absolutely believe that Shop Local has been a key resource that has grown more awareness and appreciation for local businesses. Shop Local Day shines the spotlight and keeps our local businesses top of mind. But Shop Local is way more than one day – it is a spirit that we want to keep year-round – certainly as we go into the prime holiday retail season, shopping local can have a positive impact for our businesses and on our economy.
CB: Do you see more local businesses working together and supporting each other?
KR: The fact that we have over 100 businesses signed on to take part is just amazing. Part of our goal is to promote this day so those businesses “feel the love” from our community and we all go out and take part. I am excited to spend the day visiting many of the Shop Local participants; it will help make a major contribution to my early holiday shopping!
CB: What role does the chamber want to play in growing the business community for the benefit of everyone who works and lives in the Williamsburg area?
KR: Growing the business community by helping new businesses take off, as well as supporting existing businesses is at the heart of why we exist. Shop Local is a perfect extension of that and we remain committed to grow awareness and participation by businesses and by the community. This is a movement that we can hopefully grow stronger and stronger over time.
CB: Is there anything else you would to add?
KR: I hope we can count on the community to support our local businesses this Saturday and every day, so we keep our economy and our community strong.
Photo via wavy.com