Tucker Murphy reflects on a year with the Chamber
Tucker Murphy calls the Chamber of Commerce headquarters the 50-yard line. Located above the New Canaan Playhouse on Elm Street, the busiest stretch in town, this is where Murphy spends her weekday mornings. As executive director of the Chamber, she's charged with a 9 a.m. to noon office shift.
But for Murphy, a post at the center of New Canaan's business district is not quite sufficient to serve and bolster local business. When her by-the-book duties end at noon, she takes to the sidewalks, popping in to check up on business owners along the way.
"I work much more than the mornings, and that's OK because I love this town," Murphy said. "I try to leave behind the paperwork at noon and get up and walk down Elm, Park, Forest and Main [streets] and check up on everybody. I want people to know that they can talk to me and that I'm here for them.
"We're not our own little isolated group in town. I try to have my finger on the pulse of everything that's going on."
When Pam Ogilvie stepped aside from her longtime role as the Chamber's executive director last year, Murphy stepped up to fill her shoes.
"I wanted to see what I could do to contribute to the Chamber, which was already a great machine," Murphy said. "All of my involvement in the community kind of just happened, but I think people trust me and find me accessible."
In her 22 years as a New Canaan resident, Murphy has played several roles in the community. She is halfway through a four-year term on Town Council, and was formerly a Board of Education member, Parent Teacher Council president and Girl Scout leader.
And in the year since she took the reigns of the town's most powerful public relations machine, change has become a constant in its operation.
In July, the Village Association and the Chamber united to form a stronger, single body.
The Village Association, a now-defunct group, formed five years ago to address the marketing need of local businesses, was the brain behind local events including the annual Holiday Stroll.
"I took on a huge public relations initiative for merchants when I took this position on," Murphy said. "I really have been working to boost our media exposure and focus on efforts beyond our borders to bring in foot traffic from all over. ... So the Village Association and the Chamber had two parallel paths and we decided to combine our efforts."
The Chamber also moved to its new location on Elm Street last year as a cost-cutting measure.
And for the first time, the Chamber is in the running to receive grant money. Murphy said she applied for three local grants to help create, promote and implement the Thursday night stroll series.
The Chamber has grown by more than 45 new members in the last year, Murphy said. About 400 businesses now belong to the chamber, she said.
But the Chamber as it stands today is very different from what it was when Murphy first took the lead at the crux of the economic crisis.
"There's no doubt about it -- we're better, but we're nowhere near where we need to be," Murphy said. "When the economy started to take a hit, part of me said, `Well, it can't get much worse,' but it was a tough time to take this on. People were in survival mode. Everyone sort of got behind me, but, trust me, I've stayed up many nights trying to turn things around. ... You learn that you can't always measure success by the dollars and cents of it."
Janice Kunst, treasurer of the Chamber, describes Murphy's personality and energy as integral in keeping local businesses going strong in the face of a souring economy.
"Tucker's personality is one that was integral in keeping everyone working together," she said. "She has been a real blessing to this town in this economy because if you go by the status quo, that doesn't really work in bad economic times. ... We get tired just listening to her because she has so much energy and so many ideas and I think this town is better for every one of them."
Murphy said she is constantly brainstorming new ways to integrate the local business community. And while restaurant owners and retailers make up a large chunk of the Chamber's membership, Murphy said the chamber caters to all trades.
"I can't lose sight of the fact that I have all these dentists and real estate brokers and landscapers, too," Murphy said.
She added, "And I'm not working here only for the profitable organizations. I'm also trying to help the charitable organizations in town."
In early fall, Murphy hopes to organize a business expo where professionals ranging from doctors to architects can network and exchange business cards. Other events and publicity schemes bobbing in the back of Murphy's brain include a high-end art show, restaurant week and an expansion of the Thursday night stroll series.
"There's so much more I want to do," she said, adding, "I want to be the first person [new business owners] see when they first open up in town. I want the Chamber to be the point person. When The Filling Station opened on South Avenue last week -- even before it opened -- I was knocking on the door and letting them know we're here to help. If we continue to gain visibility, we can really stand strong."