In the center of a town that has seen its ups and downs over the course of two decades, Anita Grove has been a fixture at the Apalachicola Bay Chamber of Commerce for a long time.
But at the end of August, she’ll be leaving her post after 17 years, preparing the way for a new era for her successor.
“At the (chamber) board meeting on Monday (July 21), they were all really shocked,” said Grove. “They gave me a round of applause. It’s a hard thing to get it all together.”
Grove, whose husband Mark owns and operates the Wefing’s Marine boat dealership and service facility in Eastpoint, has taken a job not far away at the Apalachicola National Estuarine Research Reserve on Island Drive, where she will assume the reins of the coastal training program that used to be overseen by Roslyn Kilcollins.
“In addition to doing the coastal training program, I’ll help them get deeper roots in the community, and other important duties,” said Grove. “It’s a new challenge. I hate to leave this job because I love this job.”
It has been 17 years this week that Grove was first hired to direct the Apalachicola chamber, brought on by Apalachicola bank president Barry Brynjolfsson, environmental consultant Dan Garlick, restaurateur Jerry Hall and the rest of the chamber board.
Grove has been in Tallahassee, running for a short time the annual Springtime Tallahassee event. Prior to that she had worked in public relations for a decade for the Florida Department of State’s Division of Historical Resources, and prior to that a host of at-will jobs at various state agencies.
Grove had been pursuing a master’s degree in nonprofit management at Florida State University, which also had taken her to a stint with the program for museum studies in Cooperstown, New York, home of the Baseball Hall of Fame.
“I never finished it (the master’s degree) because I took this job,” said Grove. “I was on the slow track, only a few credits short. I was at the ripe old age of 38 when I moved back here.”
When she moves to ANERR, she’ll be part of an organization in transition, as Erik Lovestrand has left to become extension agent, part of five vacancies in the last two months, and ANERR’s chief, Lee Edmiston, is eyeing retirement.
Grove said some of her role, in addition to the coastal training, will be fleshed out in the weeks after she starts at the end of August.
As she begins to reflect back on her years at the chamber, Grove said she would like to see the chamber embark on a renewed effort to encourage entrepreneurship.
“It’s about understanding the interconnectedness,” she said. “I would like to grow entrepreneurial effort, we have a very entrepreneurial society. I would like to see local people get into developing businesses. They are business. They’re working on the bay.
“If we could make it easier to gain those skills, that’s what we’re trying to do,” said Grove. “Our point is to see business succeed in Apalachicola and Franklin County, not at the cost of the environmental or historical environment. We really want to see small business success, that dictates our path, and to do a few events, that helps.”
She praised the work of her colleagues. “They understand the delicate business between seafood and tourism,” she said, adding that “I think we need to diversify our economy. I’ve seen it impact us.”
Grove has seen the emergence of an important downtown activist group, Main Street, during her tenure. The rivalry between the two groups has emerged at times, but both groups appear to have settled into their respective missions.
“Main Street had a very dictated path, economic restructuring,” Grove said. “We want to see small businesses succeed, that’s the backbone of the economy. We still at our core are a business advocacy group.”
Tensions over limited sources of funding have emerged at times, and Grove looked back with a hopeful view. “You need resources if you want to grow and change,” she said. “It’s nice to have a hand.”
One thing Grove is looking forward to is more time, especially since she won’t be attending, as a general rule, government meetings and other gatherings.
“I won’t be working on weekends so I can volunteer,” she said. “I’ll have more time, I have a feeling I’ll fill it up.
“I’m taking a pay cut, so my husband’s going to make me wash boats on the weekend,” Grove added. “At least it will get my flabby underarms.”
A chamber history
Chambers of commerce have been at the forefront of community development in this country since the 1700s. According to Chris Mead, senior vice president of the American Chamber of Commerce, the Apalachicola Chamber is one of the older chambers in the United States.
While conducting research for a book he found reference to our chamber in congressional records. On Jan. 17, 1843, the Apalachicola Chamber requested “lighthouses be built on Cape St George and San Blas.”Again on Feb. 10, 1843, “The Chamber of Commerce for the city of Apalachicola petitioned the Congress for an appropriation to deepen and straighten the Channel in the Bay of Apalachicola where by vessels of greater burden can be brought to the wharf of the city.”
For 170 years the Apalachicola Bay Chamber has played a major role in spearheading, fundraising and implementing important community projects for the City of Apalachicola and the surrounding area. From erecting lighthouses and infrastructure projects to helping fight the water wars to branding our area as a unique tourist destination and our oysters as some of the best in the world.
Since the early 20th century the chamber has written, produced and distributed promotional materials on the area and answered hundreds of thousands of inquiries about visiting the area, moving to the area and relocating businesses to the area. It researched and lobbied for the passage of the Tourist Development Tax in 2004, then funded and served as administration for the Tourist Development Council (TDC) for its first years.
The chamber was the driving force behind the one-cent county sales tax to fund the hospital and expand healthcare in Franklin County. We established the PAC, funded the campaign which enabled our hospital to not only remain viable but flourish and provide jobs. The Apalachicola Bay Chamber was also responsible for the Waterfronts Florida designation for Apalachicola that resulted in the development of a vision plan for the commercial seafood industry in downtown Apalachicola, and the Apalachicola Design Guidelines to help preserve Apalachicola’s extraordinary built environment. We also expanded the Enterprise Zones which provides tax incentives for businesses that created jobs or built or renovated facilities.
The chamber has also generated with national and regional press and has garnered excellent stories on the area in print publications such as Southern Living, Garden & Gun, Saveur magazine, Food & Wine, Washington Post, Boston Globe, NY Times, Sports Illustrated, Field & Stream and many others.
In 2008, we were successful in our nomination that resulted in Apalachicola being named one of the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s Dozen Distinctive Destinations. As it implies, Apalachicola was named one of America’s dozen great historic destinations. In 2011, our chamber was successful in recruiting Sports Illustrated to shoot their annual Swimsuit edition in Apalachicola and St. George Island, the only US destinations in the magazine. This put Apalachicola in a category of world-class destinations.
We have also staff and run the Apalachicola Visitor’s Center for many decades. The chamber has provided strong support for the community 170 years.