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Name’s the Same Atop Potomac Chamber

After two terms as president, real estate agent Andy Alderdice passes the torch to entrepreneur Andy Ross.

After two years as president of the Potomac Chamber of Commerce, Andy Alderdice is stepping down and letting a guy in a monkey suit take over. Maybe she trusts him because of his name.

Andy (Andrea) Alderdice will remain on the Chamber’s board of directors as newcomer Andy (Andrew) Ross becomes Chamber president.

On the surface, the two have little in common. Alderdice, 47, is a seventh-generation Washingtonian and a top-performing real estate agent for W.C. & A.N. Miller Realtors. Ross, 28, started “Andy’s Parties,” which plans themed parties for children. The title on his business card is “Guy in the Monkey Suit.”

But both have brought exuberance to the Chamber, which has dwindled in membership in recent years and both have volunteered a year (Alderdice gave two) to a time-consuming and relatively thankless job.

Alderdice grew up in Bethesda and graduated from Walt Whitman High School in 1976. Her grandparents lived in various Washington, D.C., neighborhoods during the Great Depression and her grandfather founded an electronic security firm in 1933, which her father later took over. The company installed burglar and fire alarms, eventually expanding to assist military bases with their security needs.

Alderdice (nee Smith) married her high school and college boyfriend, Kirk Alderdice and joined the family business, working in finance and human resources, but left after her father sold the company to Honeywell in 1992.

“It was hard for me to work with a corporate mentality,” Alderdice said. “To call Minneapolis for a requisition on a pad of paper wasn’t doing it for me."

She left and a friend suggested real estate, which was then more a sideline than a profession for most agents.

“I had the business training and the personality,” she said, but real estate turned out to be much more work than she had imagined. “I work 60, 70 hours a week. … I’ve been in it 11 years now. It takes three years to really get the business turning. The first year I think I made $15,000.”

Chamber members know Alderdice first for her laughter and cheerfulness, even at 7 a.m. business meetings, but she takes her work seriously.

“I take great pride in what I do,” she said. “I retain and build my business on referrals, mostly, so I must be doing something right. … I don't take myself too seriously, but do take the business very seriously.”

Alderdice said that the boom market of the last few years has made work particularly crazy — and not necessarily in a good way. She worries that overly lax lending helped drive up prices while putting some new homebuyers at risk. But as the mother of college- and high school-aged children, she is glad to see a market where young people have a chance to buy.

Ross was one such homebuyer when he came to the Washington area seven years ago after graduating from the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania.

In his native New Jersey, Ross had worked for a woman who ran a business throwing parties for children.

“I dressed up as Big Bird or Barney or whatever else,” he said.

When he graduated college, Ross started out working in finance but felt anxious to flex his entrepreneurial muscles. In summer 2004, he started Andy’s Parties, a business modeled on the one he had worked for in New Jersey.

“We thought it would be a side business,” said Ross’ wife Paula Ross, also 28, who is expecting the couple’s first child in March. “But the inventory was so big. We were doing four or five parties a weekend. We needed to have a staff of 15 or 20. Now we have a storefront in the Kentlands, we have a staff of 45. And it’s only been a year and a half.”

The staff includes a full-time general manager and a part-time manager. Most of the rest are high school students who staff the parties. Eighty percent or more are students at Thomas Wootton High School.

“We were almost all Wootton until we realized Homecoming came up one weekend and we were in big trouble,” Andy Ross said.

The company plans 1.5-hour parties based on themes like trains, princesses and sports. The base price of $340 includes food, games, activities, and a staff of three to set-up, run, and break down the party, either at the customer’s home or the Kentlands office. There are add-ons for groups larger than 15 or for additional features like costumed characters.

The couple is planning to start franchising the business in January.

Last year, they moved to Potomac from Silver Spring, where Andy Ross had bought his first house using $15,200 he had won on "Wheel of Fortune" as a down payment.

He auditioned for the show when it came to Philadelphia seeking college contestants in May of 1999, and won a spot. He finished first, but didn’t win the big prize on the final puzzle, which appeared to him as “_ _ S _   S T _ _ S.” The answer was “Fish Sticks.”

“I think they play around with you on 'Wheel of Fortune' because of all of the final puzzles were things we happened to be talking about or joking about in the back,” Andy Ross recalled. “Gordon’s Fish Sticks was one of the sponsors and we were making jokes backstage about how many things of fish sticks do you get if you don’t win any puzzles.”

Interviewed by Penn’s Daily Pennsylvanian after the show, Ross said, "I was jumping around and I probably looked like an idiot but I'll be an idiot with $15,000.”

Ross sold the Silver Spring house and found a “surprisingly reasonable” house near Glen Road last year, and while trying out for other game shows has become something of a hobby, he is now focused on life in Potomac, including heading the Chamber.

He hopes to drum up membership by holding more member-only events, which he said will provide an incentive for businesses to join rather than just drawing on the Chamber’s resources without paying dues.

He’s off to a fast start. The Chamber will have a luxury box for members at a Washington Capitals game in February.