Susan Rogers: The case of the disappearing meeting rooms
When I was a young(ish) entrepreneur in Santa Barbara in the early 1980s, I received three phone calls in one week from people asking if I could suggest a place where their organization could have a meeting.
“This is an information gap that needs to be filled,” I thought to myself, and my career as a publisher began.
My Meeting & Event Planning Guide started small, then later took me to Los Angeles to expand the guide to cover all of Southern California, then the entire state.
My publishing career ended in 1988, but I still remember the challenges and the fun times, such as no-cost board-of-director retreats in deluxe hotels and winning a trip to Singapore. Those were the days.
My interest in meeting venues and the need for local organizations to find them has never waned. When we moved here in 2000, I called the Grass Valley Chamber of Commerce and asked if they had a list of local meeting rooms, as many chambers do. I was surprised to learn they did not. The Grass Valley Chamber now has a venues list, which I’m told is very comprehensive. Also there are glossy destination guides that describe some sites.
Meanwhile, these venues are increasingly difficult to find, at least ones that can help the smallest groups with no budget.
These now-disappeared venues used to have meeting or banquet rooms ranging from very modest to very nice: Perko’s, Christopher’s Catering (both old and newer locations), What’s Up Coffee, Jim E’s on East Main, and 151 Union Square. Even El Dorado Savings Bank used to offer a community room, but no more.
What about restaurants, you might ask? A restaurant party room is not the same as a meeting room, which has to be closed off from the main restaurant so that noise from one area doesn’t travel to the other. Kane’s took a step in the right direction when they replaced the original drapes between their main room and back room with solid doors. Thanks!
In many towns, hotels with a restaurant are the only available venue for club meetings and nonprofit events. But my businesswomen’s club had to leave the Holbrooke Hotel years ago because their dinner prices became too high for our members. Now, with both the Holbrooke and The National Exchange in Nevada City undergoing upgrades to attract well-heeled visitors, their meal prices will surely be out of reach for most clubs in town. The other hotels with meeting spaces are unaffordable for monthly lunches or dinners because an outside caterer has to be paid in addition to paying the room rent. (One exception: Gold Country Conference Center on Sutton Way, where catering is by the Northern Queen.)
Churches used to be readily available for meetings and community events. Most still are, but with increasing restrictions, higher rental fees, and an insurance requirement that now is found at nearly every venue.
The recent decision by Nevada County Supervisors to increase fees for use of the Rood Center meeting rooms is yet another blow to local groups. Obviously, security is a legitimate concern in such a large building that wasn’t designed for use during non-work hours. Thank goodness for the Gene Albaugh Room at the Madelyn Helling Library, but just try to find an open time on its calendar, which is almost fully booked year-round. (BriarPatch Co-op says that its meeting room is “temporarily unavailable due to high demand.”)
What is a quilt guild, mountain biking club, small nonprofit (many of which don’t have physical offices) or service club to do? The lifeblood of a community — especially this community with its thousands of active residents and hundreds of groups — depends on the ability to gather, communicate and spend time together.
In a perfect world, public schools would have been built like the Helling Library, with easy outside access to a meeting room and restrooms. Booming communities like Livermore and Roseville have municipal community centers, but those were probably funded with developer fees collected as new subdivisions were built. That’s not going to happen here.
As Margaret Mead famously said, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed people can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” But only if they can find a meeting room!
I can help a little bit with this problem. I’ve built my own database of meeting places, and have zero plans to become a publisher again. You are welcome to a PDF spreadsheet of my data by contacting me through The Union.
Susan Rogers is member of The Union’s Editorial Board. Her opinions are her own and do not necessarily reflect those of the Coalition, the Editorial Board or its members. She can be reached at EditBoard@theunion.com.
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