A Vibrant Business Community, and an Innovative Chamber of Commerce

Words by Misty Hall

A vibrant business community, and an innovative Chamber of Commerce

When you go somewhere, how do you find out what to do, where to go, and how to get the most out of your experience?

If you come to Ojai on a busy weekend, you can just go ask Jamie Fleming. Right in the heart of downtown, he and his Ojai Valley Chamber of Commerce staff set up an information table for visitors and locals alike to ask Ojai-related questions. They’re basically your own personal concierge. They’ve got maps, hot tips, and a deep well of knowledge to help you customize just about any experience you can dream up. Want to get a massage, eat a vegan lunch, and go wine tasting? The Chamber staff has your back. Walk to The Day Spa of Ojai or Body Essentials, or drive down to the Ojai Valley Inn or a bit further to Enhanced. For lunch, check out Food Harmonics in the Arcade, or walk from Enhanced to Farmer and the Cook in Meiners Oaks. Hit up The Ojai Vineyard, Casa Barranca, and Majestic Oak for wine tasting rooms downtown. And that’s just the tip of the Ojai iceberg.

Visitor table mergePhotos courtesy of Ojai Valley Chamber of Commerce
left: Chamber intern Genesis Canal mans the Chamber’s information table in the heart of downtown Ojai on a recent weekend. right: In his few months with the Ojai chamber, Jamie Fleming has been busy helping to implement several new initiatives.

Oh, and while we’re on the topic of tastings… Have you heard of Heavenly Honey, Carolina Gramm’s, and Ojai Olive Oil? “Who has honey tasting?!” Fleming enthused. “Carolina’s olive oil is right across the street (from the info table). And at Ojai Olive Oil, you’re actually IN the olive trees!”

Want to go a bit off the beaten path? Head east on Ojai Avenue and check out Firestick Pottery Studio for one-off gifts and watch the mesmerizing art of throwing pottery. “And then you gotta go get strawberry shortcake at Boccali’s,” Fleming said.

Want a quick hike? “We just point to Signal Street and tell them to keep driving all the way up for two main trails (Pratt and Shelf),” Fleming added. “Or we point east and send them up to Sisar Canyon in Upper Ojai for a longer hike.” 

And speaking of off the beaten path, Meiners Oaks is incredible with little gems like Terramor Organic Home, the Deer Lodge, BookEnds Bookstore … Fleming could keep going. (And, actually, he does.) The guy really knows and loves this town, to the point of dropping dozens more business names in the span of just minutes. The depth of his knowledge is impressive, and the ease with which he can reference them lends quite a bit of credibility to his recommendations.

All of which is awesome for visitors, of course, but it’s also fantastic for merchants. It just makes sense, Fleming said, for a town’s chamber of commerce — especially in a tourist town — to make it easy for consumers and businesses to connect. The happier and more informed the consumers, the more successful the businesses and business owners. That’s as true for mortgage companies as it is for nail salons.

Since taking over as CEO of the Chamber a few months ago, he’s made it his mission to make those connections even easier. Fleming brings a wealth of expertise as a marketer and promoter. He spent several years as executive director for the Ojai Film Festival, and worked for Disney and Universal before that. “I was really schooled by the best in the business on how to drive customers” to businesses, he said. “We’re basically treating the whole valley as one big department store!”

arcadePhoto by Logan Hall
Well-known for its beautiful Arcade, the Ojai Valley has loads to offer outside of the downtown corridor.

He’s keeping the usual things the Ojai Chamber offers, such as Business Referral Groups, online resources, and monthly member mixers to keep everyone updated on what everyone else has going on. But he’s had a few new things in the works: wheninojai.com and ojaigifts.com. The goal of the former is to essentially offer an online version of the information table, bringing together easy-to-navigate links and beautiful imagery. With the latter, you simply type in a keyword and the system searches and tells you where you can find such items within the valley (you can also browse by category).

“Instead of guessing the store and looking all over, it will tell you exactly which store has what you’re looking for,” Fleming said. “It’s hard for businesses to keep telling people what they have to offer all the time, so this is an easy way to put it all in one place” and promote everyone as a whole. It works just as well for visitors as it does for locals. 

“There are so many special gifts here, so many you don’t even know are here!” Fleming went on. “You really don’t have to leave Ojai to find a really neat gift for someone.”

I like to think of myself as a good shop-local citizen, especially during

the holidays. But I’m continually surprised by the diversity of stuff — affordable stuff — you can find in the valley. From camping gear (Ojai Valley Surplus) to vegan soaps (Ojai Botanika at FiG) to colorful jewelry made by African Tuaregs (Nomad Gallery), you’re guaranteed to find some killer goodies no matter your budget. It’s even better to have it all at your fingertips when you’re crunched for time.

“The goal is really to encourage patronage,” Fleming said, summing it all up.

But the Chamber has a lot more up its collective sleeve. They’ve also teamed up with the concierge at the Ojai Valley Inn & Spa (which brings in more tourist dollars single-handedly than any other business in the area) to educate their employees on the things the valley has to offer outside the Inn’s walls. Chamber employees have taken Inn concierge staff on personal tours of different businesses, allowing them to meet with merchants, ask questions, and get in-depth information, which they can then pass on to their guests. And they’ll continue to do so in the coming year. On one tour, “They walked into Barbara Bowman’s (boutique clothing shop), went honey tasting, gone to Leslie Clark’s (Nomad Gallery), and did Meiners Oaks, too. We’ve taken it upon ourselves to make sure we’re educating them.” It’s the proverbial win-win. 

Marketing 1_smlPhoto courtesy of Ojai Valley Chamber of Commerce
The new wheninojai.com website encourages visitors and locals alike to explore what the valley has to offer.

The Ojai Chamber hasn’t forgotten locals, though. To encourage local residents to get out to eat in the valley, several valley restaurants will be participating in the state-wide restaurant week, where communities pick a week in January to offer killer deals on multi-course meals. Ojai’s will be January 18 – 27, and will feature a number of participating restaurants crafting meals of their signature dishes, ingredients, or styles.

There are a few other things in the works, but Fleming won’t go on the record yet. Whether you’re a local, a visitor, or a business owner, the Ojai Valley Chamber of Commerce wants to make your experience here easier and just all-around better.

Check out ojaichamber.org for more.