Chamber Closes Doors In Priest River

PRIEST RIVER, Idaho — The Priest River Chamber of Commerce, dedicated to helping local businesses thrive, is having some financial trouble of its own.

The slump in the economy has forced the chamber to temporarily close its doors.

Lunch time at the Ranch Club Golf Course and Restaurant finds owner Dennis Napier serving up three bowls of homemade salmon chowder. Napier doesn’t have as many orders as he’d like, business is down at the restaurant by 25-percent from this time last year.

“I’ve been in business here 22 years and this is really crisis time for businesses,” said Napier.

It’s a time when restaurants and other local businesses need the Priest River Chamber of Commerce, instead the chamber is temporarily closed.

“In times of trouble we need everyone working on the same team and the chamber is a supporter of the community,” said Napier.

Like the businesses it serves, the chamber is struggling financially. It doesn’t have enough money to pay its utility or insurance bills.

Napier, who also serves on the commerce board, says they had to lay off their secretary last week.

For years the timber industry has been the major supporter of the chamber of commerce, donating thousands of dollars every year. But with two lumber mills now closed and another laying off employees, that money is drying up.

“It would be the equivalent to Seattle losing Microsoft and Boeing in the same week, in fact it might be worse,” said Napier.

The chamber typically needs $19,000 to operate, but this fiscal year they’ve only received $8,000 in donations.

Priest River Chamber President Kerri Martin says the chamber needs to raise $11,000 to continue supporting local businesses and area tourism. The reality of falling short of that mark means cutting back on some of the charming aspects of the town.

“What’s going to probably unfortunately happen is we won’t have Timber Days, we won’t have fireworks funds, we won’t have lawn mower races and we won’t have Christmas on Main Street,” said Martin.

All these events keep Priest River on the map and brings in thousands of tourists every year, tourists who spend money in this small town.

“I kind of feel like we’re driving a car at night with out headlights on,” said Napier. “We don’t really know what to expect, we can’t see what’s around the corner.”

Napier and Martin are confident that at the end of this tough economic run, Priest River will be able to re-open the chamber.

“It has to stay, it has to stay because we’re not going to give up, that’s for sure, absolutely not,” said Martin.