It's week four of Famous Fish Fryday and we are talking business with Colleen DiPirro, president and CEO of the Amherst Chamber of Commerce at Creekview Restaurant at 5629 Main Street in Williamsville.
"She named half the crowd in here," said Dave Schutte who owns the Creekview, which stands on the first homesite built in Amherst in 1799. The longtime restaurant is popular with regulars, but also attracts customers from across Western New York. The same goes for the Amherst Chamber. When DiPirro started there 33 years ago, most members came from within Amherst. Now, she says, 43 percent are from outside Amherst though the Chamber doesn't solicit outside Amherst boundaries.
"When I started, we had a budget of $24,000 a year and 180 members, about 50 percent of which paid," DiPirro said. "We now have 3,000 members and a budget of well over $1 million."
While DiPirro sees the Chamber as a driving force in regional economic development, she says much of her focus recently has surrounded the Affordable Care Act and its negative implications on the business community. "People just don't understand. Many, many of our members, about 1,200 subscribers in the last couple years, many of them thought they wouldn't have to pay health insurance premiums come January 1, instead they were hit with double digit increases."
While Obamacare is one of DiPirro's biggest challenges, it's not her only focus. "We'd like to talk about a new convention center and a strategic plan for the hospitality industry," she said, noting that it will take more regionalism. "We need to start thinking of ourselves as the Buffalo Niagara region and Amherst being a part of that, vs. Amherst vs. Buffalo."
Along with more collaboration, DiPirro would also like to see less regulation in New York State. In 33 years, DiPirro has watched issues evolve so her role is ever changing. The same goes for Schutte. As the owner of Creekview, Oliver's and Henry's at Kleinhan's Music Hall, he has watched appetites evolve over the years.
While Creekview's authentic fish fry is still popular and served seven days a week, lunch and dinner, customers are requesting more seafood choices, including bass, salmon and tuna, and more flavors. "We still serve a lot of haddock, but people are having it broiled or parmesan style with tomatoes, white wine and parmesan cheese," he said.
Schutte say no meal is complete without a homemade dessert, and to top it all off, Creekview's incredible view along the banks of Ellicott Creek.