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Big Changes At The Andersonville Chamber Continue With Departure Of Marketing Director Jessica Hammer

Jessica Hammer, Andersonville Chamber Of Commerce

Jessica Hammer, Andersonville Chamber Of Commerce

You might say Jessica Hammer got her marketing and promotion experience the old fashioned way: She started small and worked her way up.

As a grade school student helping her grandparents sell produce at their farmers market, she handled products and dealt with customers. She knows the blueberry farming business, too, thanks to her family’s operation in southwest Michigan. Meanwhile, one of Hammer’s latest ventures, when she leaves the Andersonville Chamber of Commerce for the last time on Friday, will be to help her parents open a bed and breakfast in South Haven, Michigan.

That will be a far cry from her current position as the Chamber’s director of marketing. But even if Hammer has been in a different place, selling a different type of product, for almost nine years, her efforts to help Andersonville and the Chamber grow have not gone unnoticed.

Along with Chamber Executive Director Ellen Shepard, who announced her departure from the business development organization in December 2015, Hammer has helped to change Andersonville.

Some might know the Rogers Park resident because of the monthly email update she sends out to thousands of people. That’s one thing that Shepard noted in an email to the Edgeville Buzz on Tuesday.

But many others will know of, or possibly just recognize, Hammer because of her and other Chamber members’ efforts to organize and promote various neighborhood events. These include the Late & Late-er Night Andersonville, the Andersonville Sidewalk Sale, the Andersonville Farmers Market, the Wine Walk, Dinner & Dessert Crawls, and the City Made Fest, among others.

Much of that work, for instance, helped Andersonville be named as one of the Top 5 Shopping Destinations as part of the Chicago Concierge Favorites Award in 2015.

“(That) was an amazing accomplishment for this neighborhood because there are always very few award winners north of Lincoln Park,” Hammer said on Tuesday. “It may be much easier for concierges to direct their guests to attractions downtown, but through a five-year strategic initiative, we’ve been raising the awareness that we’re worth the trip up here.”

“Andersonville is a special place that combines small-town charm and unique, local businesses with all of the vitality of the big city (without all the crowds of Michigan Avenue). As this word-of-mouth continues to spread, we’ve received more and more attention from tourists on a national (and worldwide) level.”

Hammer got her start at the Chamber as its Program & Administrative Assistant in 2007. She was then promoted to Marketing & Member Services Manager before becoming its Director of Marketing two years ago.

Her focus on marketing and promotion allowed her to help Andersonville grow. But it also allowed her to watch what those changes did to help the Chamber. Since she was hired in 2007, the business development organization has grown from a staff of three to a staff of six. That total includes the Andersonville Development Corp

The Chamber has also honed its strategies for supporting local businesses to include outreach to landlords and prospective tenants and worked to incorporate sustainability into the fabric of Andersonville. Hammer said she’s watched business owners rethink their strategies after the recession and has seen the huge impact that social media has had on how local businesses market themselves.

Chamber members get promotional support, too, with the Andersonville Neighborhood Guide, which Hammer has managed the production of since 2009, and the Andersonville Arts Weekend, which Hammer has organized since 2013. Hammer has also provided marketing support for all of the Chamber’s events and programs, maintains its website, and directs its social media strategy (among many other things).

“I remember when we first created Andersonville Chamber of Commerce accounts on Facebook and Twitter in 2008 and 2009,” she said. “Since then, we’ve grown both outlets into an engaged community with almost 6,000 followers on each (we’re a bit newer at the Instagram game, but we’re getting there!) I’ve been the voice of the @avillechamber Twitter account since the beginning, while various staff members contribute to our Facebook account.”

Flexibility matters, too. Hammer’s college studies in costume designing helped.

When the Chamber worked to start the Andersonville Farmers Market in 2009, it unexpectedly found itself without a market manager four weeks before the market was supposed to begin. The Chamber was also very short on vendors.

“At the time, we were all so panicked that someone said, ‘Jessica, you grew up on a farm. You could run the market, right?’” The only market experience she had had was with her grandparents’ farmers market.

“But we all rolled up our sleeves and pitched in to the effort, with me leading the charge. I managed to scrape together some connections from my farm family to attract a few more vendors (some of which are still with us today) and spent every Wednesday that summer setting up, managing, and taking down the market.

“We couldn’t have done it without some very dedicated volunteers, two of (whom) we hired the next year to run the market for us. Joan Oberndorf and David Oakes are still our market managers, and it’s been my privilege to work side-by-side with them to build the farmers market into what it is today. After gradually handing off more and more duties each year, they now manage all aspects of the market, and I’m confident I’m leaving it in the best of hands.”

She added that rebranding has helped the Chamber look deeply into what people love so much about Andersonville.

“It’s the quirky, accepting, and laid-back atmosphere combined with our deeply-held Swedish heritage that makes us truly unique in Chicago,” Hammer said. “I think we were able to capture that spirit in a way that allows it to grow and change as the neighborhood grows and changes. Seeing that logo still gives me a jolt of happiness three years later — and I hope it does the same for everyone.

Hammer said she hopes local businesses and residents will continue to band together for the good of the neighborhood.

“We’re always stronger together, and that’s never going to change. I hope we (and I think we will) hold on to our fierce commitment to local businesses. These businesses are the roots of any community — what grounds us. If we don’t tend to them, the roots die out and we lose the whole tree.”

“Working for the Chamber and being part of the Andersonville business community has been an exhilarating experience — and a fantastic learning opportunity,” she said.

“Andersonville has been on the forefront of so many things — the movement to support local businesses, community-based sustainability, and the way that Chicago markets its neighborhoods to the rest of the City and beyond. I’ve been honored and blessed to be a part of this community.”

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