The Avon Chamber of Commerce Has Supported Local Business Owners For 22 Years
Photography provided by Amy Payne & Avon Chamber of Commerce
When the Avon Chamber of Commerce was formed in 1997, Tom Downard was actively involved in real estate development. The Chamber needed a full-time executive director and so in 2000, he accepted the position. Since its inception, membership has grown from 30 to 250.
“We are here to support our members and help them grow their businesses by promoting them as much as possible on a number of different levels,” Downard says.
They do this via various community events, their largest being the annual Rib-Fest, which is always held at the end of June on the Saturday before the Fourth of July. A local tradition since 2005, the day is filled with food, games, inflatable bounce houses, hot air balloon glow, live music, a 5k Rib-Run and ¼ Slab Kids Run. Plus, local restaurants compete for “best ribs” and “best sauce” as hungry patrons taste-test all the yummy flavors. The night culminates with Avon’s annual fireworks display.
The event was originally held in Washington Township Park. Right from the start, it’s done exceptionally well.
“The first year we held it, we expected maybe 400 people to show up,” Downard says. “Instead we had 2,000. We were overwhelmed by the numbers that turned up.”
As the event’s popularity has continued to soar, so have the numbers, making it necessary to find a larger venue to accommodate parking. Several years ago, Rib-Fest moved to Kingsway Christian Church where there is access to parking lots at Kingsway, Sycamore Elementary and Avon Middle School North. According to Downard, even then all three lots fill up because typically between 8,000 to 12,000 people attend Rib-Fest.
Throughout the rest of the year, the Avon Chamber holds luncheons on the fourth Tuesday of the month (all except for December and August). The biggest portion of the luncheon, and the part members enjoy the most, is the networking time from 11 a.m. until noon. Following that, Downard addresses the crowd, lunch is served and the invited guest speaks before a door prize drawing concludes the event at 1 p.m.
Every meal is catered by a local restaurant such as Texas Roadhouse, Longhorn Steakhouse, Olive Garden and Chick-fil-A, to name a few.
“Our slogan is ‘live, shop, dine here,’” Downard says. “It’s nice for our members that they’re not always eating the same chicken plated luncheon. We might have steak one time and tacos the next.”
Every year the Chamber has three “traditional” speakers, including the Town Manager, the Washington Town Trustee and the school superintendent.
As for the others who round out the speaking engagements, they look for those who tackle subjects that would be beneficial to business owners.
“We do a lot of work with start-up Mom-n-Pop businesses,” Downard says. “When small businesses are treading those waters for the first time, a little knowledge and information can go a long way.”
That’s part of the reason why the Avon Chamber has an ambassador group that consists of six to eight members. Every new member is taken under the wing of an ambassador, who introduces them around at the luncheons and ensures they feel welcome.
Several times throughout the year, the Chamber holds fun outings, such as the holiday cocktail party in December, the golf outing in August and the dinner auction each spring.
“We try to do fun things outside of the 9-to-5 networking,” Downard says.
For instance, in March they rented out the Red Curb Comedy Club so members and their spouses could mingle and enjoy some comedy in a laid-back atmosphere.
Born and raised on the west side of Indy, Downard graduated from Ben Davis High School and Indiana Central College (now UIndy), where he played basketball. After college, he got involved in the Subway franchise before moving into real estate development and property management. Having lived in this community for 30-plus years, Downard has witnessed significant growth in and around Avon.
“Years ago, there was hardly anything on Rockville Road and the 36 corridor,” Downard says. “Then the west side began to explode.”
It seems that within Hendricks County, each community is known for something.
“Certainly, Avon is known more as the retail sector — especially the eastern part of town,” Downard says. “People often call us the ‘new Greenwood’ with the car dealerships and restaurants.”
He admits that Avon has been slow to change with regards to sectors other than retail. However, according to Downard, off Ronald Reagan between 200 N and 300 N, a development is in the works called the Landings, which will offer everything from office space to flex space to warehouses.
“That will be a great benefit for the community going forward,” says Downard, the father of two. His son Alex is a junior football player at Manchester University and his daughter Abby is a sophomore basketball player at Marion University.
A self-proclaimed “sports enthusiast,” Downard coaches varsity girls basketball at Cardinal Ritter High School on the west side of Indy and in his free time is often out on the golf course.
Upcoming things to look for in Avon include a retailer called At Home that is taking over the vacant Gander Mountain building as well as buying the ground adjacent to it so they can add 40,000 sq. ft. more retail space. In addition, Denny’s is moving into the old Jack in the Box location. Also coming in 2019, the town itself is continuing to expand and open up new trails to connect communities and parks.
“For those folks who like to get out and walk, jog and ride bikes, there will be more connectivity throughout town, making our community more livable,” Downard says.
Even though Avon has grown a great deal, particularly over the past 15 years, it still remains a “small-town community,” which people appreciate.
“We like going to Big Apple Bagels knowing that Dave is back there making our bagel sandwiches,” Downard says. “We like knowing who manages, owns and works at our local businesses. And [frequenting these places] is an opportunity for people to get to know one another, mesh and blend our community together.”