Businesses in spotlight at Chamber awards gala

Planned to be a little extra special in honour of its 10th anniversary, the annual Fort Frances Chamber of Commerce business awards shaped up to be a night to remember for district residents and businesses.
A record 96 individuals and businesses were nominated in 13 categories this year which, when combined with the various past award winners invited to attend, made for a crowd of just over 200 people at La Place Rendez-Vous.
The United Native Friendship Centre won the first-ever Town of Fort Frances Accessibility Advisory Committee Accessibility Award while Fort Frances Fire Chief Steve Richardson accepted both Safety Awards (Individual/Employee and Business/Employer).
“It was wonderful, and certainly unexpected,” Chief Richardson said Monday, adding any award he gets he owes to the rest of the firefighters—meaning it was the Fort Frances Fire and Rescue team that really got two awards.
“Everything we do is a group effort. And I know that to do my job, I need their support,” he added.
Randy Thoms of Shaw Cable won Employee of the Year while the Tony Beyak Memorial Volunteer of the Year went to Ruth Caldwell.
The Customer Service Award (Individual) was given to Bruce Armstrong (Gillons’ Insurance) while Pinewood Sports & Marine earned the Customer Service Award (Business).
The Business Woman of the Year Award, a new award category this year that drew 21 nominees, went to Angie Korzinski (Rusty Myers Flying Service).
“It was a big honour. I was surprised, considering the number of people nominated,” she remarked.
Korzinski added it was extra special to be the first recipient of an award she said was “long overdue.”
“It’s great to see women in business finally recognized,” she remarked. “More and more women are involved in their own businesses, or just business in general.”
Larry George (Wayne George Grading) was named Entrepreneur of the Year while Business of the Year (1-15 employees) went to Kish Gon Dug Canada Ltd., based at Naicatchewenin First Nation.
“It was truly an honour to be amongst so many deserving businesses,” said director of operations Tony Marinaro.
“It’s great to be acknowledged for all our hard work. There’s been so much commitment from the community and the leadership to bring us this far,” he noted.
“To be able to stand out in this way, so that everybody sees that we’re doing a serious thing and the potential is great, is truly an honour.
“There’s many other businesses out there that have been operating longer than us. This is a confirmation for us that we’re on the right track,” Marinaro remarked.
Marinaro said things are really looking up for the cedar furniture manufacturing company, which just last month signed a five-year distribution deal with a U.S. company and currently is in negotiations with a distributor in Ireland.
“Employment is going to be increasing and so is the workload,” he said. “It’s been a fantastic year so far. But we have to keep focused, too. It doesn’t end here. It’s just the start.”
Meanwhile, Business of the Year (16+ employees) was awarded to Beaver Mills Market in Rainy River.
“It’s great news,” said Steve Hawkins, who owns and runs the store with his wife, Eileen.
“We’re pretty happy—number one, that we were nominated at all, and number two, that we won,” he added. “We’re quite surprised. We just started hearing rumours [Tuesday] that we might have won.
“We thought it would go to a Fort Frances business.”
Hawkins noted the store, which coincidentally just celebrated its 10th anniversary, often is undergoing changes and most recently had its loading and receiving area rebuilt to be more “streamlined.”
“Every year we put back in as much as we can to keep up-to-date, to keep moving ahead,” he stressed.
Two special one-time awards, in honour of the Chamber’s 10th-annual gala, also were handed out Saturday night.
Ernest Thompson Distributors was recognized as Business of the Decade while the Lifetime Achievement Award, intended for businesses that have been around for a minimum of 25 years, went to Gillons’ Insurance Brokers.
“It’s really an honour,” Duane Cridland of Gillons’ said in an interview Monday. “It’s a real shock.
“To think we’ve been around for a long time, we’ve seen a couple generations come through—it’s a an honour our business peers would think of us that way.
“To gain that recognition is great especially when the insurance industry, as a rule, is a pretty difficult industry,” he admitted. “A lot of people don’t like it at the best of times. That maybe enhances [the award] a little more.
“Through difficult times, through a product that the consumer is not always thrilled with, we’re looked upon as a leader in the community, a leader in the industry,” he added.
“It’s taken a lot of planning to get us where we are. And certainly the biggest part of that is to take care of the customer, and the second-biggest is to take care of the community,” he stressed.
Cridland noted he was thrilled to see Gillons’ employee Bruce Armstrong get the Customer Service Award (Individual) earlier that evening.
“That’s sort of the way the management team at Gillons’ thinks,” Cridland said. “For Bruce to get that accolade was just wonderful to watch. I know how hard he works for the customers.
“I’d like to think it filters down to the rest of the staff. I guess it probably does—that’s where this other award came from.
“If everyone’s not thinking about making the public happy, I’m out of business really fast.”
Fort Frances Mayor Dan Onichuk, John Harrison, Barb Everett, Lynn Beyak, Bev Kotnik, Angela Halvorsen, Emo Reeve Russ Fortier, Ala Dulas, Alan Tibbetts, Marlene Deschamps, and Paul Pirie announced the award winners.
Reeve Fortier, who chairs the Rainy River Future Development Corp.’s board of directors, also recognized the RRFDC’s 2005 Customer Service Champion Awards on Saturday night.
These 10 businesses, which previously were announced May 18, included Cloverleaf Shop Easy, Energy Motivation Fitness Centre, Fort Frances Chiropractic Centre, Gagné Pharmacy, Mark’s Work Wearhouse, Northwoods Gallery & Gifts, Peterson’s Food Town, Pharmasave, Sears/Rainy River Duty-Free, and The Great Bear.
Honourable mentions went to The Corner Closet, Dairy Queen, Edward Jones, Fort Frances General Supply, Holmlund Financial, La Place Rendez-Vous, Norlund Oil, Super 8 Motel, Tim Hortons, and Tompkins Hardware.
Chamber office manager Dawn Booth, who spent many hours organizing the gala, said she felt “it was excellent.”
“It was a really nice evening. There were no problems with anything. And the crowd surpassed what we had expected,” she remarked, adding only one of the award winners—Beaver Mills Market—could not be on hand in person.
“Everything was good. The meal was wonderful. Everybody seemed to have a good time,” added Booth. “I haven’t heard anything negative yet.”
She noted the Borderland Orchestra Ensemble, which played during cocktail hour and the meal, did “a wonderful job.”
Chamber first vice-president Christine Denby emceed the event while Gus MacDonell ran the “Dutch auction” for a portable DVD player from Howarth’s Home Centre, a weekend stay at Trail’s End Lodge, and a 52” HDTV from Green’s Countrywide.
Dulas got the DVD player and TV, which went for $175 and $2,600, respectively, while Harrison got the weekend stay for $225.
The evening also included a silent auction, with nearly 40 items donated by district businesses up for bid.