RUSKIN A decades-old community landmark will disappear next month when the Ruskin Chamber of Commerce building closes permanently next month.
The former Ruskin and Apollo Beach chambers merged two years ago to become the SouthShore Chamber of Commerce. Since then the nonprofit group has operated out of both former chamber offices, which are little more than three miles apart.
"It was extremely important to us at that time to keep both offices open," said Melanie Morrison, executive director of the SouthShore chamber. "We didn't want anyone feeling we were abandoning them. We've made concerted efforts since then to show that both communities are equally represented and we acknowledge their individuality."
But closing the Ruskin office makes perfect sense at this time, she said
"On a personal level, it was a very hard decision to make, a sad thing for me," Morrison continued. "But from a business standpoint, it's in the best interest of the chamber and our members."
The Apollo Beach office is newer, larger, has ample parking and requires less maintenance. And although the Ruskin office is rent-free, it's much smaller, has little parking and needs considerable repairs and upgrades.
Morrison said she knows the Ruskin office is part of the community's history.
"But now we represent everything south of the Alafia River to the Manatee County line and the office in Apollo Beach is pretty much in the middle.
"Anyone owning a business has had to make such decisions," she said.
While some in the area will lament the closure, others will see the decision as a sign of the times.
"I believe the Ruskin chamber building has served its purpose at that location," said Glenn Dickman, spokesman for the Dickman family, who deeded the property to the Ruskin Chamber of Commerce around 1960. "But we've evolved now into the SouthShore chamber, and I believe closing the Ruskin office makes sense."
Dickman's grandparents were "very community-minded and dearly loved Ruskin," he said. "They wanted to ensure the community thrived and the chamber succeeded."
So as long as the building was used by the chamber as a chamber, it held the deed, which will revert back to the Dickmans in July.
Others in the community agree.
"The current Ruskin chamber office has served the community well," said Ruskin resident and longtime chamber member Anne Madden. "It is always sad when a community loses something (its sees) as an asset; however, the small, cozy, homey little office had its limitations even years ago."
Madden described the meeting room as too small to accommodate the growing chamber, which currently has 400 members and said parking "isn't adequate for even basic committee or board meetings.
"I believe it's a sound business decision to consolidate the staff and operations into a single location that doesn't have these limitations," she said. "Progress is not always comfortable."
Tracy Cannon, owner of South Shore Signs, called the decision "bittersweet."
"It's been here a long time; it's kind of Ruskin's little treasure," she said. "But the chamber is growing, and we need to be willing to change with the times.
"It's the people involved at the chamber who keep me coming back after 15 years, not the location."
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The old Ruskin Chamber of Commerce building at 415 U.S. 41 S. will close permanently on June 17 after more than 50 years of service to the community. The Ruskin chamber merged with the Apollo Beach chamber two years ago to form a much larger SouthShore chamber, which requires more space to accommodate its growing membership.
Charlotte Clark of American Momentum Bank, Tom Betterley of Legal Shred and Suzanne Ramella of the SouthShore Chamber of Commerce go through old, no-longer-needed Ruskin chamber records in preparation of the building's closing in June.
Notebooks containing old chamber materials are collected for donation to area schools sorely in need of supplies for low-income students.