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Chamber reaches out to West Fargo

Katie Rahr, left, and Karen Munson of Travel Leaders in Fargo collect business cards and show off a dice game to booth visitors at Thursday's Business After Hours event at the Fargodome. The event drew 60 vendors and more than 400 guests. Marino Eccher / The Forum

Fifteen years ago, Darcy Fuchs, president of West Fargo's Payroll Express Inc., set up a booth at Business After Hours in Fargo, held by the organization then known as the Fargo Chamber of Commerce.

It didn't go well: She hardly met a soul, wasn't used to the size of the event, and watched as stranger after stranger strolled by. She didn't come back until last night, when she decided to give the same event - now run by the combined Fargo Moorhead West Fargo Chamber of Commerce - another try.

And Craig Whitney, the chamber's president and chief executive, was determined to make sure she felt right at home.

"What we have tried to do is make a concerted effort to invite our friends that were unique members of the West Fargo chamber," he said. After touting Business After Hours as a major strength during the merger negotiations, Whitney wanted the newcomers to see it for themselves, reaching out to the 176 businesses that had been members of the West Fargo chamber exclusively and holding a welcome event for a few dozen West Fargo guests.

The event - the chamber's ever-popular vendor-and-cocktail affair - drew 60 booths and more than 400 guests. Both the Fargo-Moorhead and West Fargo chambers had held similar events on a regular basis; this was the first major event of any kind held by the newly merged organization.

The result was a jovial mix of wine glasses, fancy appetizers (stuffed mushrooms, marinated shrimp), and local vendors promoting everything from vacation packages to laser eye surgery.

Randy Miller, sales coordinator for D&M Industries, a Fargo door, window and hardware company, said his company opted for a booth at the event because the clientele includes "a very nice mix" of potential customers.

He said he'd attended the event as a visitor in the past; Thursday was his first appearance as a vendor. To draw traffic, his booth featured a game where visitors tried to hit a target with a crossbow that fired foam darts. The tie-in: "Hunting for cabinets?"

Bernie Dardis, chief executive of Indigo Signworks and a member of the board of both the former West Fargo chamber and the new chamber, said no matter where a company is located, the business ties of the combined event make sense.

"The whole idea of the merger of the two chambers was that we're all one community," he said. "We fight floods together; we do business together."

Todd Fuchs, Darcy ­Fuchs' husband and business partner, said the cool reception his wife faced at the event a decade and a half ago was a thing of the past.

"This time," he said, "we hardly got in the door before running into people we knew."