Last week Greater Haverhill Chamber of Commerce held a dinner in honor of the official melding of the Haverhill Downtown Association into the chamber. The partnering of the two groups was long overdue so it was something to celebrate.

The event itself revealed the importance of the merger: It wasn't just a meet and greet, but instead a sit-down buffet style dinner in the function room at Maria's and the mood was as if a wedding had taken place.

Former Haverhill Downtown Association President Janet Donovan and Chamber President James P. Jajuga appeared to be comfortable in their roles — so comfortable guests were tapping water glasses with spoons like they do at weddings to get the bride and groom to kiss. There were plenty of hugs to go around and a stack of citations for those who have generously helped the HDA accomplish its goals.

The two organizations are still working out the kinks of the merger, but Haverhill Downtown Association will become an official subcommittee of the chamber, and its mission will remain much the same: advocating for downtown businesses and merchants, and running downtown events.

Donovan and Pentucket Bank's Warren Gerety, who has been deeply involved with the HDA, will be co-directors of the committee.

The merger was long overdue because it made sense. Both organizations are business-oriented and both have been working hard to put Haverhill on the map. They started working together in August just after Jajuga was named president of the chamber, replacing longtime President Sally Cerasuolo-O'Rorke. One of the first things on Jajuga's agenda was to connect with the HDA to see what they could do for each other.

The first collaboration was the downtown Clean Sweep. The clean-up was planned, then Jajuga found a city business willing to donate money to buy brooms, which were distributed to downtown businesses for the giant sidewalk sweep to spruce up the downtown.

They also worked together on the annual Christmas Stroll, an event traditionally run by the HDA. But with the help of the chamber it was bigger and better than ever and a win-win. The HDA had help organizing the event — a difficult task no matter how many hands are assisting — and the chamber helped promote the city through advertising designed to draw people from all over, including raffles galore and a $2,000 shopping spree.

Though in the past a good part of the chamber's focus has been economic development, Jajuga now wants to make the chamber more relevant to not only businesses, but the community at large, meaning all 13 communities the chamber serves in Massachusetts and New Hampshire.

When on its own, the HDA was run by about a dozen or so merchants, and having businesses themselves, putting together the events was done after normal work hours, and exhausting.

When people first heard that Jajuga had been chosen as the new chamber president, most were optimistic about what he could accomplish for the city through the connections he had made during his years as a state senator, then as secretary of public safety.

But he was also known for his ability to bring people together to make things happen, and that is exactly what he has done in his seven short months on the job.

Jean MacDougall-Tattan is editor of The Haverhill Gazette.

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