Solvang Chamber celebrates 100 years
The Solvang Chamber of Commerce is celebrating its centennial anniversary this month, reflecting on the contributions of past Chambers who gave the city its charm.
A century ago, the members of the Solvang Businessmen’s Association met for the first time in Dania Hall, envisioning the future of the charming Danish town nestled in the Santa Ynez Valley.
They pictured a city with unique infrastructure and opportunity, with its Danish roots at the core of commerce and daily life. As the association evolved over the years and became the Solvang Chamber of Commerce, they made their vision a reality.
Chamber members oversaw the development of the city’s water district, lighting district and the construction of the traditional Danish architecture. They also pioneered cultural celebrations such as Solvang’s annual Danish Days event each September.
“Everything in this city has started at the Chamber,” Tracy Lavery Beard, the Solvang Chamber’s executive director, told the News-Press.
She added, “These are things these gentlemen (in the Chamber) envisioned — to make (Solvang) look like a small Danish community with the architecture … it came from their vision, and we are, I like to say, the gatekeepers of that vision.”
In honor of the Chamber’s 100 years of service, proclamations were offered from the Solvang City Council, the California State Senate and the Embassy of Denmark in Washington, D.C. In honor of the Chamber’s centennial, U.S. Rep. Salud Carbajal, D-Santa Barbara, also flew an American flag flown over the Capitol.
To commemorate this momentous milestone, the Chamber plans to bury a time capsule in December filled with items and gadgets from businesses that reflect modern commerce. Ms. Lavery Beard said the Chamber will leave a directive for future Chambers to dig up the capsule 25 years from now.
The city’s Danish charm draws more than 1.5 million visitors a year, and though much has changed since the founding of the city in 1911, Solvang remains free of franchises and boasts more than 150 small businesses.
Max Hanberg, owner of the Solvang Shoe Co., told the News-Press that the Chamber’s contributions to local businesses have been “invaluable” over the years.
“The Chamber is helping all merchants come together and make Solvang what it is,” Mr. Hanberg said.
Over the years, the town has preserved its quiet, charming presence in the Santa Ynez Valley, thanks to the dedication of the Chamber and businesses, Mr. Hanberg said. Despite the increasing number of activities in the Los Angeles area, Solvang remains a hopeful escape from the hustle and bustle of city life, he added.
“There’s been more attractions built throughout the years, but Solvang’s kept its small-town charm and quaintness,” Mr. Hanberg said.
Keeping Solvang’s Danish roots present is of high importance to Bent Olsen, owner of Olsen’s Danish Village Bakery in Solvang. For more than 50 years, Mr. Olsen and his staff have served up delectable Danish breads and pastries from their bakery on Mission Drive.
“The bakery is a big part of Danish culture,” Mr. Olsen told the News-Press. “That’s very important. We need to keep the (Solvang culture) as Danish as possible. … As long as I’m around, I’m definitely going to make sure it’s in place.”
Businesses in Solvang felt the effects of the pandemic throughout 2020, as lockdowns and travel restrictions decreased tourism drastically. Over the course of the pandemic, the Chamber “pivoted” to accommodate struggling businesses, Ms. Lavery Beard said.
During the early months of the pandemic, the Solvang Chamber joined the Economic Development Collaborative, which offers practical training to small business owners in topics like finance and social media marketing. The Chamber also helped business owners in Solvang obtain portal grants from the state.
While carrying the legacy of the past Chamber leaders is a “lot of weight on her shoulders,” Ms. Lavery Beard said joining the EDC is a help to the business community that will continue Solvang’s legacy.
“We are looking forward to a prosperous 2021.”