More than 100 people gathered at Suicide Bridge Restaurant on Monday, December 9 for the 2013 Inaugural Dorchester County Small Business Awards. Thousands of sparkling lights transformed the Christmas-festooned glass-walled event space into a winter wonderland for the first-time awards.

Dorchester County Economic Development Director Keasha Haythe welcomed the guests and recognized the County Council and awards committee for their commitment to small businesses. Following an invocation from Grace United Methodist Church Pastor Christina Blake, guests enjoyed a buffet before settling in for the awards ceremony.

Event committee member Pat Wielgosz served as emcee and recognized by name every one of the nominated businesses. He then presented the evening’s first award (1-25 Employees) to Steve Disharoon, owner of The Drug Store in Hurlock. Joining Disharoon at the podium was Senator Richard Colburn and Delegate Addie Eckardt. Senator Colburn presented resolutions from the Maryland State Senate while Delegate Addie Eckardt presented Maryland General Assembly citations with Delegates Eckardt and Haddaway-Riccio as Sponsors to each award winner.

After reading from the nomination crediting the second recipient with transforming downtown into a dining destination, David DeLuca presented the second award (26-50 Employees) to Cambridge Eateries. Co-owners Jamie and Brett Summers and Chef Patrick Fanning accepted the award. Brett took time to thank the community for their patronage and Chef Fanning for his vision.

Committee member Valerie Brown presented the New Business: 5 Years or Less Award to the Hooper’s Island Oyster Aquaculture Company’s Johnny Shockley and Ricky Fitzhugh, two locals “with Bay water in their blood,” for transforming a struggling industry into a thriving company.

In an ironic twist, Brown’s fellow committee member – Shockley’s wife Nancy – then presented the Legacy: 20+ Years Award to Charles C. Powell Inc. Realtors, a firm founded by Valerie’s father Charlie Powell more than 35 years ago. Brown accepted the award on behalf of her dad.

County Tourism Director Amanda Fenstermaker spoke of the fifth winner’s (Nonprofit category) contributions to the community before awarding that recognition to an army of staff, volunteers and instructors from the Dorchester County Family YMCA.

Haythe took the stage again to bestow the Most Innovative Business Award to Keith Graffius, founder of Crabi Gras Entertainment. With a handcrafted wood plaque bearing ‘water moves us’, Graffius took time to thank his store manager, funders and all the ”absurd people who believed in me,” adding, “I’m honored to stand on the same stage with Steve Disharoon who has been a rock in our community and helps us believe there’s a little bit of Mayberry left in America.”

Small business owner and long-time County Council member Ricky Travers delivered final remarks telling the attendees that an event to “celebrate the backbone of Dorchester’s business community was a no-brainer.” He closed the evening reminding all to “remember the reason for the season.”

A complete gallery of photos from the awards ceremony can be viewed on our Facebook page.