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ARLETA : Quake Boosted Chamber’s Roster

For 20 years, the Arleta Chamber of Commerce and Residents Assn. existed as a post office box and telephone number connected to an answering machine. The chamber had no headquarters, no employees and virtually no influence.

What a difference a quake makes.

Since last Jan. 17, the chamber’s membership has more than tripled. And for the first time since it formed in 1975, it has a permanent headquarters, a street address and a phone that will be manned.

Hawley Smith, chamber president and a former director of the Los Angeles branch office of the U.S. Small Business Administration, said the new office should be open for business next week on Arleta Avenue near Osborne Street.

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The space was made available through a partnership with Eusebia Co., an accounting firm that agreed to share office space.

“The earthquake brought the community together in terms of people looking after the businesses,” said Smith, 64, who took over as president, a volunteer position, in October.

“The businesses came together and agreed they wanted a stronger chamber. They’ll look to us to become a more powerful organization so we can act on their behalf.”

After the quake, Smith said local businesses felt vulnerable and recognized the need for a strong advocate that would fight on their behalf for government resources. By the end of January, he projects membership will have grown from the pre-quake 10 to about 70.

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Its growth, Smith said, will enable the chamber to become a more visible and viable factor in the community. One of its first projects for this year will be to organize a food drive for the community’s needy.

“We really are a community-based chamber,” Smith said. “We represent both the businesses and the residents. Where we look to help the needy is through our churches.”

Five local churches are now members of the chamber.

Other major projects include landscaping, cleanup, graffiti removal and sponsoring town meetings.

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