- Grove City, Pennsylvania

Local News

November 16, 2012

Business stars shine at awards

GROVE CITY — Grove City had a homemade, star-studded event on Halloween - and it was anything but frightful.

Five new business awardees and their supporters walked a red-carpet into the Guthrie Theater for the Third Annual Grove City Chamber Awards Evening, hosted by the area chamber of commerce in Olde Town.

"Without commerce, we have no community," said George Elliott, chair of the Pine Township supervisors and emcee.

He joked that others who turned down being emcee recommended him "because George Elliott has a tuxedo."

Five awards are given annually, including the Silver Spruce; Best Marketing Effort of the Year; Emerging Leader of the Year; Business Leader of the Year; and the coveted Business of the Year.

This year's winners were:

Š Silver Spruce: Sweeny Photography for moving from a leased studio in a house along Route 208 in Springfield Township to its own, newly built, spacious studio around the corner on Route 258 in Springfield, across from the London Grange.

"I always wanted to have my own studio," said owner Shawn Sweeny, who began making plans to build during the nation's economic downturn four years ago.

"I saw friends going out of business and saying, 'You're crazy,'" he said, which made him a little nervous. However, "I wasn't going to stop the dream of this," he said.

Since bank money was scarce, the construction came in steps; taking over three years to complete - with some of the finer details with his own sweat and muscle. Sweeny looked at the downturn as an advantage in being able to find a lot of great deals; for instance, in buying the studio's cherry wood flooring.

"It's been a labor of love," he said. "I've seen so many beautiful buildings go up, so to get an award for my building, I felt, 'This is great.' Even my kids did a little dance."

Sweeny extolled Grove City as being "no better place ... to make your dreams come true," he said. "Live the dream."

Sweeny Photography can be reached at 724-748-9695.

Š Best Marketing of the Year: Nonni's Corner Trattoria for the multi-faceted way the Italian restaurant at 251 S. Broad St., Grove City markets itself as a "warm and welcoming place with fantastic food; a fun place," said owner and manager David Valenza.

The restaurant is named after his mother, Helena "Nonni" Valenza, who's involved in the business. It's in her Sicilian blood says who?; she managed her father's Italian restaurant in Clearfield that operated for 50 years.

Whether it be a digital crowd who wants to find out what's cooking through its Facebook page; out-of-town guests who respond to its print advertising; motorists catching one of its billboards; or its collaborations with other Olde Town businesses, Nonni's wants people to know that the restaurant is run "by a family with genuine hospitality," Valenza said.

Not only does it market food, but live music from 6 to 8 p.m. Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays, featuring smooth jazz and Italian ballads.

In June, in-law Andrew Hazelton, hung a mural of a vintage Sicilian street he painted on the side of the restaurant. It features a composite of his wife, Camille - Nonni's daughter and Valenza's sister - who is the restaurant's sous chef and dessert maker.

Valenza - who accepted the award with his mom and sister - felt Grove City shouldn't be "taken for granted," he said. "A lot of businesses are coming here and succeeding. Grove City is like a Disneyland Main Street downtown. Who wouldn't want to be here."

"God has blessed us with this wonderful town and has chosen us to come here to help you," Nonni added.

■ Emerging Leader of the Year: Micaela May-Vrabel, the young owner of Beans on Broad, 141 S. Broad St., Grove City, was chosen for her spunky, creative and inspirational business savvy.

As offspring from the owners of the coffee company, George J. Howe Co. in Grove City, May-Vrabel has the brew running through her veins.

"What makes me most proud is she's been active with Olde Town and chamber events," said her father, Ernie May, chair of the Howe company.

His daughter got her inspiration from her dad. "Dad showed me through his actions to step up and get involved," she said. Her mother, Becky May, "shaped who I am," May-Vrabel added, and her husband "puts up with my long hours."

"The only advice I gave her is she needed to buy our coffee," said Dick Beech, her uncle and CEO of Howe's. "She did all the other hard work on her own."

Grove City College students often hang out and study at Beans. The downtown ministry next door, AOX, has held meetings and art/social media events - once, even a baptism - at the coffee house.

May-Vrabel extols her staff, the community and the chamber for helping her succeed. "I know I'm biased but I can't think of a better place to have a business," she said of Grove City. "Everyone has built me up."

Beans can be reached at 724-458-0670. 

■ Business Leader of the Year: Mitch McFeely, branch manager of PNC Bank and chamber board president, was by far the cheeriest of the recipients.

"He's happy, hopeful, helpful and a hoot," said Will Rose, who oversees the Grove City Community Garden, which McFeely has been involved in. "Mitch always has a smile on his face."

As the chamber board president, "He's the first to step up to any task," Black said. "He's been to every single ribbon cutting but one. He's a great asset."

"He's always involved in something," said assistant branch manager at Grove City PNC, Karen Palmer.

Debbie McMaster, senior vice president of the bank, was informed by McFeely four years ago of his dream to be branch manager in his home town - which was impressive to her. "We're really proud of him," she said.

McFeely is thankful for the opportunity, and all the people who have supported him in his life, especially his mother and father, who continue to cheer him on in his endeavors.

When Black brought a rose to announce him being selected for the chamber award, "I thought, is this a new addition for The Bachelor," he said, joking.

He sees Black like a sister, and extolled her leadership. They've worked together in a new food program for local students that has raised thousands in a short time, he added.

"The chamber is 50 years old in Grove City. I am blessed to help keep it going and thriving."

■ Business of the Year: General Electric, wrapped up the event with a bang, as a huge employer for the local economy.

"GE has show us the light, so to speak," Elliott said, "and has been more committed to the community this year."

When companies are going overseas for cheap labor, GE has stuck around. "They bought the Alcoa building in my township (on Barkeyville Road)," Elliott said. "We owe GE a great deal."

GE was outgrowing its location on Industrial Drive  on the border of Grove City and Pine Township, said plant manager Bill Carney. 

The former Alcoa building was purchased in April and is being primarily usd to rebuild engines; whereas the main location is for building them.

"We chose the Grove City option - one - because of the people, and for the space available," Carney said.

This year, "We've hired 62 people," he added, for the existing plant. The first round of 15 new employees were hired for the Barkeyville Road plant - and more openings will be coming down the pike.

"We've been in the community for 40 years," Carney said. "We're really proud of what we're able to accomplish. Thank you for the award."

Foods and wine were set up at various stations; chocolate fondue by Daffin's Candies with sweets for dipping; gourmet desserts from Pastries by Andrea; hot foods by Elephant & Castle Pub and Restaurant and the Springfield Restaurant Group. Beans on Broad provided coffee and Heritage Wine Cellars brought the spirits.

The awardees are announced prior to the gala and featured in a video made for the event by videographers Ryan Thomas and Alex Catedral.

Published Nov. 3, 2012, in Allied News. Pick up a copy at 201 A Erie St., Grove City.

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