On Politics: The Chamber of Commerce, a Rich Baltimore History - Fletcher R. Hall

The Chamber of Commerce, in Baltimore, had a long, rich history.It began over 150 years ago, and today the chamber is rebounding in Baltimore City.

The original organization, known as the Corn and Flour Exchange, was founded in 1853. Following the Great Baltimore Fire in February of 1804, a building was built at 17 Commerce Street, with a grain-trading center in the lower floors and a trading exchange on the top floor. The Baltimore Association of Commerce was launched in 1924 with the merger of the Merchants and Manufacturers Association and the Trade and Export-Import Board.The occupants of 17 Commerce Street played a significant role in the commercial history of Baltimore City and, while the Chamber of Commerce is no longer housed there, the building still stands as the Staybridge Suites Hotel.

Early on, former Baltimore City Mayor James H. Preston was named to the Board of Directors of the Association of Commerce. This action was taken to indicate the significance of business and government working together for the mutual benefit of commerce and the city. In its earlier days, the Association of Commerce was involved in the naming and placement of streets and determining the location of housing so as to not conflict with space needed for manufacturing and commercial development.

In the following years, the Association of Commerce advocated for the expansion of manufacturing entities in Baltimore City. The Chamber was most active during the period of years when manufacturing became a pillar of the Baltimore economy. The focus of the Chamber was the economy and commerce in Baltimore City, including the Port of Baltimore. For many years the port operated under private ownership, and many allied industries developed to serve the needs of the port. Eventually, the port became a state entity run by the Maryland Port Administration.

By 1953, several city business leaders saw the need to develop the core of Baltimore City, including the innerharbor. That year the Greater Baltimore Committee (GBC) was formed. The Chamber of Commerce was then subsumed as part of the GBC. That organization grew as a regional entity with major companies constituting its membership and leadership. Following that merger, the Chamber of Commerce made a committee within the GBC. That Committee does not exist today.

In 1991, a group of small business owners and the Greater Baltimore Board of Realtors (GBBR) recognized the need for an independent business organization. The leaders in this effort were Edwin Warfield IV, publisher of The Daily Record; Sonny Morstein, president of Morstein’s Jewelers in Federal Hill; and Fletcher R. Hall, the executive vice president of the Greater Baltimore Board of Realtors at that time. The effort was supported by City Councilman Tony Ambridge and William Donald Schaefer, the then governor and former mayor of Baltimore City. The reorganized Baltimore Chamber of Commerce was launched and has continued and membership has been maintained since then.

In October 2016, Eben Frederick, a former Comcast Senior Account Executive was named president of the Chamber. In 2018 Richard Craft, a certified financial planner with Lincoln Financial, was elected as the new chairman of the Board of Directors.

The Baltimore City Chamber of Commerce is a growing trade association, serving the needs of the Baltimore business community. As the needs of businesses in Baltimore City change, so has the programming and advocacy of the Chamber of Commerce.

So far this year, the Baltimore City Chamber of Commerce has advocated for finding ways to assist crime reduction and to retain the Preakness at Pimilco Race Course in Baltimore.