It was a marriage that needed to happen.  Certainly, the then-Olean Area chamber of Commerce and the Olean Business Improvement Association (OBIA) weren’t exactly competitors—in fact, OBIA had its offices housed in the Chamber’s building—but there still was a healthy sense of competitiveness between the two organizations, too.

“OBIA had been formed primarily to help downtown business,” Tricia Henzel, who served as OBIA’s president at the time of its merger with the Chamber, said.  “There was a perception that the Chamber was too broadly-based to really focus on downtown, so that led to the birth of OBIA.”  In fact, OBIA thrived for eight years, until 1993, when the final merger talks concluded and OBIA became part of the Chamber.  But, in its eight-year history, OBIA had a profound influence on the economic landscape of Olean.  “The board of OBIA really wanted to recapture the halcyon retail days of Olean ,” Mrs. Henzel said.  “And that meant reviving some of the old traditions that had lapsed over the years.”
Specifically, that led to the rebirth of the area’s most well-attended—and most eagerly anticipated--event, Santa Claus Lane in 1985.  “The organizers thought that first year they would hold a nice little tree lighting ceremony......... but as a couple of thousand people showed up for the ‘tree lighting,’ we knew we had to come up with something special the following year,” Mrs. Henzel said.  “Hence, the rebirth of the parade.”
It was also OBIA that launched the first Taste of Olean and Crafts Extravaganza and revived Farm City Days and Art in the Park.  “Taste of Olean was such a natural idea,” Mrs. Henzel said.  “With the number of great restaurants we have in the Olean area, the idea of having them all come together to give attendees a ‘taste’ of their great food was just exciting.”  The original Tastes were held in Lincoln Park , where upwards of 7,500 people would attend the event.
“Taste is a great way for the restaurateurs to showcase their talents,” she said.  “It’s wonderful that the event has endured to this day and has a great new venue at the new Cattaraugus County Campus of JCC.”  When OBIA finally became part of the Chamber, it had left a profound mark on the greater Olean area, both with its introduction (or reinvigoration) of events, and its attentiveness to retail development—both missions that were assumed by the reorganized Chamber.  “The spirit of OBIA lives on in the Chamber,” Mrs. Henzel said.
Greater Olean Area Chamber of Commerce • 716-372-4433 •