South Sound businesses come out at night

It wasn’t much of a gamble for the nearly two-dozen South Sound businesses that were showcased Wednesday night at the Grand Central Casino in Lakewood, site of the Lakewood Chamber of Commerce’s “Business After Hours” event.

The casino served up a festive atmosphere, offering fun, food and networking opportunities galore to the 23 area merchants represented at the two-hour gathering.

“We looked at a way we could showcase our members without taking up a lot of time and inconveniencing them,” said Linda Smith, president and CEO of the Lakewood Chamber, before providing a brief history of “Business After Hours.”

The genesis of the event began several years ago with similar get-togethers that were held in March and October as part of the Chamber’s general membership luncheons, Smith said.

“I began seeing the same audience over and over again,” she stated, realizing a separate event would be necessary in order to attract a more diverse group of people and bring in new members.

A separate “Business After Hours” event was held beginning in 2000, Smith said, and has been an annual event ever since, with different locations hosting every year.

That decision has paid off. “It’s getting bigger ever year,” Smith said, noting the first “Business After Hours” drew 70 to 80 people, while this year’s event had 125 people RSVP. And even more people than that actually showed up, she happily pointed out.

“I’ve seen a lot of unfamiliar faces – people not at our daytime functions,” Smith said. “As you can see, it’s a real casual atmosphere. It’s a lot of fun.”

Those in attendance agreed. “It’s been wonderful,” said Peggy Armstrong, an independent sales associate with AFLAC insurance in Tacoma and Chamber member since June. “They’re sincere about helping businesses,” she said of the Lakewood Chamber. “Everybody’s out to help each other. That’s what’s cool.”

Armstrong, who serves as a Chamber ambassador, said she would definitely be back for next year’s valuable networking event. “It’s a great environment. I’ve talked to a lot of people,” she said.

Randy Walden, agency administrator with Heartwarming Care in University Place – which provides in-home care and companionship to seniors – echoed those sentiments. Heartwarming Care, which started up in October and has eight employees and four clients so far, is a new member of the Chamber.

“One of our best investments,” he said of joining the Chamber in general and “Business After Hours” in particular. “This is cool.”

With business poised to expand in the future, Walden appreciated the chance to get the word out about the services his agency offers. “This is going to pay dividends – give us all exposure,” he said. “This is a smart thing to do. They should keep doing this.”

Walden praised the friendly atmosphere of “Business After Hours” and the spirit of cooperation in the Lakewood Chamber. “This is really what Lakewood is all about,” he said. “They make you feel like family.”

Other businesses participating in this year’s “Business After Hours” included AA Party Rentals, Aquarium Paradise, Beds of Roses Florist, Cats Eye Group Creative Services, Classy Chassis, Clover Park Technical College, Cruise Call Inc., Designated Mortgage, Fabulous 50s Room, Fairy Godmother’s Ballroom, Great Promotions!, Greater Lakes Mental Health, Home Street Bank, Integra Telecom, La Quinta Inn & Conference Center, Lakewold Gardens, Mount Rainier Scenic Railroad, Radiant Research, Renewed Life Center, St. Clare Hospital and Tacoma Club.