For the second time in a year, the Monroe Chamber of Commerce is moving, this time into one of Monroe’s most historic buildings; the 1927 Sultan Monroe Masonic Lodge on Lewis Street.
The chamber will share the building with the Masonic Lodge.
Last September, the Chamber of Commerce moved out of its street-level Main Street office space, where it had maintained a visitor information center. Membership had declined too sharply for the organization to afford the lease, the new director, Annique Bennett, explained at the time.
The chamber office moved across the street to a small, sunny, second-floor space, a much less expensive option.
But there were some drawbacks; the space was cramped, there was no meeting space and parking was very limited.
It was while trying to solve the parking issue several months ago that Bennett struck on the idea of approaching the Masonic Lodge about office space.
“We’d had contact because we needed an arrangement for parking,” said Bennett. “But I kept thinking maybe they had office space, and within hours of us reaching out, they were in contact.”
It turned out that the Masonic Lodge had about twice the space that the current office had, and the rent was quite modest, a third of what the old Main Street location had cost.
So Bennett rounded up the Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors and toured them through the space.
“I thought it was great,” said Adam Hoffman, owner of Adam’s Bistro and a board member. “The office now is a very small spot, and this has parking, office space, a kitchen. I’m excited.”
When one walks into the stucco Spanish-style building, there are doors to the left and right of a small foyer. A sign will point chamber visitors to the left, into a small room that will hold a front desk from which Operations Manager Shelley Nyhammer will greet visitors.
In the upstairs loft, Bennett will have another office, much more spacious than the one she has now, from which she will conduct chamber business.
The basement has meeting space that will be available to the chamber, as well.
“You could put 100 people downstairs and there’s coffee and a full-sized kitchen,” said Hoffman. “You could even do a little catering for the chamber.”
With the prominent, ground-floor location, the chamber will also once again be able to offer information to visitors during office hours.
“We are not going to try to bill it as a visitor information center,” said Bennett. “We don’t have staff to open it on the weekends, and people need visitor information on weekends.”
But there will be signage to direct visitors to the new location, so that during the week they can come in and ask questions or pick up brochures.
The 3,600 square-foot building is the home of the Sultan-Masonic Lodge #160 and the Floral Chapter #117 of the Order of the Eastern Star, a Freemason-related organization.
The organizations have long roots in the Sky Valley, and at one time the Masons were among the largest and most influential social organizations in the region.
Today, the smaller but still-active chapter raises money for scholarships and works to promote literacy at the elementary school level, among other things.
The historic nature of the organization and the building make it a good fit for the Chamber of Commerce as well, said Steve Martin, a member of the Masons.
“This partnership with the Monroe Chamber is a huge step in returning the Masonic Lodge to a center of the community,” said Martin.