Washington Evening Journal
111 North Marion Avenue
Washington, IA 52353
In mid-May of this year, the Kalona Area Chamber of Commerce brought in two new, yet familiar, faces to lead the Chamber’s day-to-day operations.
Director Tonia Poole and Assistant Director Krista Hershberger grew up in the Kalona area and have roots in the business community.
“My first connection with the chamber was through Stitch and Sew Cottage,” Poole said. “It’s a family-run business that my great-grandparents and grandmother started in 1982.
“I’ve been alongside with Stitch and Sew and saw the interaction with the Chamber on the business side of things.”
Hershberger’s family also runs a business in Kalona.
“I first interacted with the Chamber through my family’s business, Kalona Chocolates,” Hershberger said. “My parents started it, and I still work there.
“I did their marketing and communications, and some of that was working with the Chamber.”
Poole said that familiarity with the business community as well as the community as a whole helped give her a leg up when she took over as Chamber director.
“I’ve really enjoyed being able to connect with the businesses and meeting the owners, many I already knew,” Poole said. “It really helped already having a bit of a connection with the members.”
Hershberger added, “We are both new here, but being from this town has been helpful in our new roles at the Chamber.”
Poole said that she has enjoyed her interaction with businesses as well as visitors to the community.
“Being here in the office, it’s been fabulous seeing the tourists and visitors come through and hearing what the people coming into the community are asking for,” she said. “I can personally relay that to the businesses.”
And what are those visitors seeking?
“People from out of town or out of state want experiences,” Poole said. “They want to have a home-cooked meal. They want to go behind the scenes of an Amish home or farm.
“Some of that stuff is not available. We’re seeing what we can do.”
Poole said that they have some ideas about providing visitors with some of those experiences they want.
“I would love to see some of those special tours,” she said. “I would like to have buggy rides or watching them press cider or sorghum in the spring.
“There are different things we could do to make the tours more of an experience than just popping into a retail store.”
Hershberger agreed with Poole’s assessment of what visitors want.
“That’s what people are looking for,” Hershberger said. “They want to talk to someone who grew up here and who really knows the community.”
That is another instance where having grown up in the community has proved to be an asset.
“I can’t imagine someone trying to start from scratch at the Chamber, especially because of the nature of our community,” Poole said. “The Amish draw is huge. We’re not just another little town.
“If you don’t know the culture and history of the town, you can’t really answer the questions or explain to people the heart behind the community.”
Poole admitted, though, that there still is a lot to learn about the community and its history.
“I’m continuing to learn,” she said. “I took the Byways tour the other day. We have different tour drivers who have been in the community pretty much their whole life.
“You learn a lot. I learned more than I expected to. Each of the guys has their own take and their own perspective.”
The Chamber’s immediate project at hand is preparing for the Kalona booth at the Iowa State Fair this month.
“Kalona will have a booth set up at the State Fair where people can come in and get a taste of Kalona,” Hersberger said.
The booth is made up of Chamber member businesses. Some of this year’s participants include Stitch and Sew Cottage, Kalona Chocolates, Kalona Brewing Company, Kalona Amish Country Noodles, JK Creative Wood and Yotty’s Ice Cream.
“Everybody wants a Yotty’s Kalona Bar,” Hershberger said. “They’ll throw their cash down and grab a bar.”