Garry Douglas speaks at the 100th anniversary for the Chamber.
PLATTSBURGH — “I’m here as Frank Hall and I died in 1903,” said John Krueger, standing in front of a large crowd, some silent, a few allowing an uncertain chuckle to escape them.
“I am hanging out in Riverside Cemetery,” said the Clinton County Historian and Kent-Delord House Museum Executive Director. “I am available.”
Krueger spoke at the North Country Chamber of Commerce’s 100th anniversary celebration in a room packed with members and representatives from various businesses and local officials.
Krueger attended the event as Hall, husband of Frances Delord Webb and the last member of the Delord family to have lived in the home.
It was the summer of 1912, Krueger explained, and merchants recognized the need to come together as a formal group to improve Plattsburgh’s prosperity.
“Things in Plattsburgh were not moving fast enough,” Krueger said.
On April 22, 1912, a group of businessmen formed the Plattsburgh Chamber of Commerce, officially incorporating that October with 258 members and annual dues of $10.
The Strand Theatre opened in the 1920s, as well as a new hospital on Beekman Street and the beach.
The chamber, and many other groups, asked President Franklin Roosevelt in 1933 to change Thanksgiving from Nov. 30 to Nov. 23 to allow for more shopping days until Christmas. In 1941, Congress officially made Thanksgiving the fourth Thursday of November.
“Our current chamber is also not shy about asking for big things for the North Country,” Krueger said, referring to Garry Douglas.
In 1959, the chamber called on major oil companies to cut the price of a gallon of gasoline by 2-cents, frustrated with the cost at the time of 34.9 cents per gallon.
Rod Giltz, chairman of the Chamber’s Board of Directors in 1967, assumed the past at 27 in 1967.
“It was a simpler time,” Giltz said.
Plattsburgh revolved around Margaret Street and city police officers toted around bags of nickels to put in expired parking meters. Out-of-town vehicle owners would then find a note thanking them for shopping in Plattsburgh and explaining that the money had been donated by downtown merchants.
“I am proud to be part of this community and proud of the chamber and what it is today,” Giltz said.
Krueger, again assuming the identity of Hall, stressed that Canadians are more than tourists, but are also business people who aspire to open businesses in the area.
In 1955, Canadians spent roughly $15 million to $20 million in the North Country. Today, that figure is estimated at $1.5 billion annually.
“Please be nice to these people,” Krueger insisted.
Helen White was the first female chair of the Chamber’s Board of Directors in 1988, followed by Hope Coryer in 1989. Coryer continues actively support the Chamber.
“Moving from downtown Plattsburgh to Route 9 was very controversial and members left because of it, but it recognized that the chamber was more than just a Plattsburgh chamber,” Coryer said. “Another big deal was to become politically involved with issues that impact the business community, and members left then.”
Krueger recalled when local leaders fought, to no avail, to save the Plattsburgh Air Force Base, which closed in 1995.
“But we made the best of a bad situation, and it is an example of economic development.”
The world did not end in 2000 with Y2K, Krueger joked, but since then there has been the Port of Excellence at the border with Quebec on Interstate 87 in Champlain, the birth and continued evolution of Plattsburgh International Airport and the new Tourism Destination Master Plan.
“And now, in 2012, we can all fly direct to Las Vegas,” Krueger grinned. “It doesn’t get much better than that.”
Douglas, explaining the time capsule that will be opened at the 200-year anniversary, said he doesn’t know what the chamber will look like in 100 years, but it will exist.
“There will always be issues and things that need to be done,” he said. “We play a leading role in a growing sense of regionalism, and we must grow and increase as a suburb of Montreal.”