Greater Bartow's Chamber of Commerce has hung out the “help wanted” sign again, less than a year after filling the slot vacated just last year by long-serving executive director Jeff Clark.
Kathryn Bevilacqua-Ely tendered her resignation to chamber officials about two weeks ago, and Clark has stepped up to serve as interim director until the slot is filled permanently.
“At a time when we each must make difficult decisions for our business, we must also make difficult decisions for ourselves,” Bevilacqua-Ely said in her resignation letter to the chamber. “This was not an easy decision and not made lightly, but a necessary one for my family.
“As I enter a new chapter in my life, know that I will remain committed to small businesses and will continue to be an avid supporter of the Greater Bartow Chamber of Commerce and our members,” Bevilacqua-Ely said. “Thank you for the support you have provided to me personally throughout my time with the Chamber and I look forward to watching Bartow continue to shine.”
Clark, who held the chamber's top slot for nearly two decades, agreed to step back into the role until the chamber can find someone to replace the departing leader.
Business leaders reportedly were both surprised and saddened by the news, especially since Bevilacqua-Ely had only served less than a year. She is rumored to have taken a post in marketing for a major corporation, however, she has yet to confirm which company she will serve.
“We hate to see her go,” said Bartow businesswoman and former city commissioner Trish Pfeiffer. “We appreciate all she did for the Bartow Chamber and business community under extremely difficult conditions and unprecedented time dealing with a global pandemic.”
Pfeiffer has a long-standing relationship with the chamber, since her mother Mayme Burdin-Clark was once the chamber's director. Her comments were echoed by another long-standing chamber member, Bartow Vice Mayor James Clements.
“I'm sorry to see her go,” he said, adding that she received “a very generous offer.”
Clements also said the departure “comes at a bad time for the chamber, since it is in bad shape financially right now” due to the pandemic.
“If there's going to be a chamber, the members who owe their dues need to pay them and quickly,” Clements said. “It's that bad.”
The chamber relies on membership dues and the proceeds from events to survive. Presently, only Clark is on the payroll. Virginia Condello, the chamber's only other paid staffer and marketing maven, is on furlough, pending better times.
With Bevilacqua-Ely's departure, the chamber's five-member board re-called Clark, who agreed to take the helm again until a full-time replacement can be found. He didn't really hang his chamber involvement up when he “retired” last year, staying on to acclimate his successor and as an active member.
Presently, according to earlier reports, the chamber is operating on its financial reserves and it recently received COVD-19 federal funds through Polk County's CARES program.
“We're like all other chambers in the country,” Clark explains. “People are still supporting us and that bodes well.”
Chamber coffers rely heavily on events to generate revenue, most of which have been canceled or postponed due to pandemic restrictions. There are no scheduled chamber events for the remainder of the year.
“Almost all of our events are indoors and we just don't feel we can do it in a safe manner,” Clark said. “We're going to just have to ride this thing out. We know what has to be done and we'll get it done.”