(Jim Obert ~ jobert @semissourian.com)
"Our big focus has been our centennial events, and there was an economic benefit," said Rhonda Wessel, chamber president. "We're going to try to continue to boost the economy by having different organizations sponsor special events over the coming years."
Wessel said that since Chaffee has lost some industries over the years, she would like the city to hire an industrial development specialist, which it once had. But until then, said Wessel, the current enthusiasm generated by the centennial celebrations needs to be utilized.
One boost to the city's drive for more tourism is the recent completion of a huge, colorful mural on the side of a building at Main and Yoakum streets. The mural, which depicts much of the city's vibrant railroad history, overlooks a landscaped and lighted pavestone park.
"We'd like to see another mural on another building facing the park," said Aaron Horrell, who spent most of the summer painting the mural. "People like murals, like the ones in downtown Cape Girardeau. They draws visitors ... murals are good for tourism."
Horrell said Chaffee needs to capitalize on its railroad heritage, and painting oversize locomotives steaming their way past depots and wheat fields can generate interest from out-of-towners.
Wessel said the railroad that runs through town "is still an industry we count on. I believe when Union Pacific gets things going, they're going to try to run 39 trains a day through here."
Wessel said farming is still important to the area, and so are the mom-and-pop stores downtown. She said the chamber has been very active in ribbon cuttings. Wolfs Den Sporting Goods is a new business in town, and an AFLAC insurance office recently opened.
Longtime Chaffee resident and current mayor Bill Cannon said, "We've always had good quality businesses here."
Cannon said Chaffee had several hat and cap factories that thrived until foreign competition forced them to close.
Wessel said a new car wash has opened on Highway 77 near a Dollar General Store that was built earlier this year.
"A couple of new daycares have opened, and we're hearing rumors about a new service station and mechanic shop," she said.
Wessel said the city has a lot to offer. Besides having two banks, longtime businesses such as Whitaker Hardware, Dacus Discount, Rice Insurance Agency and Medicap Pharmacy (formerly Tee's Prescription Shop) continue to thrive. Chaffee Nursing Home employs about 75 workers as does S&W Cabinets in the industrial park, she said.
As for tourism, the eye-catching gazebo in the center of town is a potential big draw.
"In our effort to attract more visitors, the gazebo has had a complete renovation," said Wessel. "It was sanded down to the original wood and repainted, rewired for night lights and the park around it has been landscaped. We've had an increase of requests from people wanting to use it for weddings and other events."
New welcome signs have been placed at all five entrances to the city.