Wantagh Chamber of Commerce installs new officers

Taps triad of talented women to lead chamber forward in coming year


A trio of local businesswomen headed the slate as the Wantagh Chamber of Commerce marked the installation of new officers and trustees at the Riviera in Massapequa last month. The chamber also presented its Lifetime Achievement Award to longtime Wantagh businessmen and chamber supporter Tony Smith, of SAS Travel.

Outgoing president Patrick Benôt passed the gavel to Cathy Powell, of Universe Home Service; Karen Lofgren, owner of Karen’s Sweet Addiction, was inducted as first vice-president; and Marilynne Rich, a freelance media consultant specializing in social media, became second vice president. Other officers were Matthew Kondrup, of Matty K Travel, as corresponding secretary; resident member Judy Cunningham as recording secretary; and attorney Mitchell Rich as financial secretary.

Chris Brown, of Mid-Island Medical Supplies; resident member Connie Conway; Rosemarie DiMaio, of Mama’s Custom Cookies; Ira Reiter, of Merrick Dodge Chrysler Jeep; Peter Spanos, of Tavolo Kitchen + Pizza; and Tom Splecia, of The Nook Restaurant, rounded out the field as the chamber’s trustees.

“We have an enthusiastic new board,” Benôt said. “Cathy Powell was a good candidate” to head the all-volunteer board, as they seek to continue the chamber’s rejuvenation.

“I’m delighted to be president of the chamber,” Powell said, “and we have a great team.” Powell said she was especially happy to have Rich and Lofgren as vice presidents. Rich, who provides consulting on how businesses can improve their performance via social media, will bring her expertise and experience in this area to the chamber, Powell said, and Lofgren brings a wealth of expertise from her years as a Wall Street executive.

“We have a lot of things brewing. We just had a very successful Winter Wonderland event,” the former social studies teacher said. “And we’re planning our first-ever St. Patrick’s Day parade.”

The March 17 parade will run from Beltagh Avenue, near Wantagh High School, to Triangle Park. It will begin at 2 p.m. John Murray, owner of Mulcahy’s Pub & Concert Hall, will be the marshal of the inaugural event.

“I always wanted a parade and thought it was time,” Powell said. The parade will feature local groups including high school bands, the American Legion Pipe and Drum Corps, the Knights of Columbus and the Girls Scouts.

In addition to the parade, the chamber will have its annual Fourth of July bash, and next month’s general meeting will feature a talk by Nassau County Comptroller Jack Schnirman. Schnirman is expected to address the chamber on some of the possible benefits of last year’s U.S. Supreme Court ruling, South Dakota v. Wayfair, which permits states to collect sales tax on Internet purchases by out-of-state customers.

According to Gov. Andrew Cuomo, local governments in Nassau and Suffolk counties could receive as much as $30 million per year from additional sales tax, if the measure is enacted.

“I believes it will encourage people to shop locally, and even if they continue to shop online, local business owners will have more of an equal footing,” Powell said. “I’m guilty of sometimes shopping online for convenience,” she added. “But this helps brick-and-mortars to have a fighting chance. We’re hoping the legislation that’s being considered in Albany now will have stronger language.” Revenue from additional sales tax could help to support infrastructure and schools, but state law must be amended to enable state and local government to levy the tax.

Rich said she wanted to “take the chamber into the modern world by using social media, so people know what’s going on.” She said the parade already has 6,000 Facebook followers. “The whole point [of using social media] is to attract people into the neighborhood, expanding our reach to let people know about us. We also do email distribution and sponsored marketing.”

Rich said the chamber has achieved an unprecedented level of support on social media. “We’re getting 5,000 to 8,000 followers when we have no special events,” Rich said, “and 13,000 to 20,000 followers when we have an event. We can reach people in Wantagh, Seaford, Bellmore — and even as far afield as Floral Park.”

Besides Facebook, the chamber is also using various media to promote the chamber. “We use Instagram to reach young people and Twitter to reach older users,” Rich said.

Smith received the chamber’s lifetime award for his contribution to the community in a career spanning more than 40 years, including 26 years at SAS realty. “He’s been a staple of the community for so many years,” Benôt said, “and he’s always available to help the chamber and always ready to give back to the community.”

“When he originally came to Wantagh, people told him he’d never be able to have a successful business here,” Powell said. “He’s been able to prove them wrong.”

In addition to running a thriving enterprise, Powell said that Smith hired people for his business who he believed could also make positive contributions to Wantagh as a whole. “He’s not just supportive of the chamber,” Powell said. “He really loves Wantagh, and it shows in everything he does.”