Neighborhood awards celebrate best of the city


Two Scotts Barbecue picked up the Gerald R. Helmholdt Grand Award at Thursday’s neighborhood business awards celebration. Photo by Rachel Weick

Neighborhood Ventures and the Neighborhood Business Alliance celebrated more than 90 businesses out of nearly 1,700 located in 20 districts at the 26th Annual Neighborhood Business Awards last week.

The awards program, which took place Nov. 5 at Wealthy Theatre, recognizes new businesses, notable neighborhood economic development successes, and the investment and commitment in 20 neighborhood business districts in Grand Rapids.

Mayor George Heartwell and members of the Grand Rapids City Commission presented the awards to the finalists in more than a dozen categories.

Two Scotts Barbecue, which serves in-house, daily-smoked barbecue in a converted A&W building at 536 Leonard St. NW, received the top honor during the event, winning the Gerald R. Helmholdt Grand Award.

Mark Lewis, executive director of Neighborhood Ventures, said the awards celebration always culminates with the Grand Award, adding this year’s winner sums up how the “best project doesn’t have to be the biggest project.”

“Two Scotts Barbecue reused the building. They have a great interior and exterior renovation and, of course, it is a great new business,” said Lewis.

“The thing that stood out for that project is the amount of sweat equity those two guys put into it that made the project happen. They are literally running out of food quite often because they are so successful.”

Two Scotts is owned by Scott Hartmann and Scott Luecht.

The awards ceremony also recognized Jorge Gonzalez from the West Michigan Hispanic Chamber of Commerce with the John H. Logie Business Champion award, and Valencia Cooper, owner of Centralian Shop Unlimited LLC, with the P. Michael Wanroy Volunteer in Business award.

Lewis said the volunteer award is a citywide nomination designated for a small business owner who not only has a great business but also is “doing a lot of the heavy lifting.”

Cooper serves as a host neighbor for Seeds of Promise and was a charter member of the Greater Grand Rapids Chapter of Jack and Jill of America.

Cooper’s company, located in the Madison Square Business District, provides marketing services via branded apparel and accessories. It has increased its sales to capacity and “she still finds time to serve on a number of boards,” according to Lewis.

“Entrepreneurs always have to be busy,” said Lewis. “Valencia still finds the time to be community-focused, even though it is important to not forget about their businesses, as well.”

The awards celebration also recognized 11 businesses representing the following Grand Rapids neighborhoods: Wealthy Street, Monroe North, Heartside, West Leonard, Boston Square, Michigan Street, Alger Heights, Madison Square, Creston, Grandville Avenue and Stockbridge.

Winners and their respective award categories are:

  • Donkey Taqueria, a full-service bar offering authentic Mexican food, 655 Wealthy St. SE — Best Exterior Maintenance.
  • Grand Rapids Garage Bar & Grill, 819 Ottawa Ave. NW — Best Business Promotion.
  • Woosah Outfitters, an art and apparel business, 131 S. Division Ave. — Best Interior Renovation.
  • Ralph’s Market, 655 Leonard St. NW — Best Exterior Renovation.
  • Standard Lumber’s Boston Square location at 1535 Kalamazoo Ave. SE — Best Longstanding Business.
  • Logan’s Alley, a neighborhood pub at 916 Michigan St. NE — Best Neighborhood Restaurant.
  • The Old Goat, 2434 Eastern Ave. SE, serving creative cuisine in Alger Heights — Outstanding New Business.
  • Southtown Square, a LINC Community Revitalization project in the Madison Square neighborhood — Best New Construction.
  • Star Collision CARSTAR in the Creston neighborhood — Good Neighbor Award.
  • Grandville Avenue, for the district’s brochures — Best District Promotion.
  • The Black Heron Kitchen & Bar, a gastropub at 428 Bridge St. NW — Best Reuse of a Building.

In response to this year’s winners, Lewis said it is interesting to see the level of investment transition across the city.

“A lot of focus has been on, of course, the near west side. We are seeing a lot of nominations coming from over there, whereas Wealthy Street was hot a couple years ago,” said Lewis. “There is a lot of activity along Michigan Street — new construction, new businesses — and those are reflected in our nominations.”

Lewis said the annual celebration, which is sponsored by the NBA and Neighborhood Ventures, originally began in 1990 when Gerald R. Helmholdt served as mayor of Grand Rapids and was dedicated to honoring neighborhood economic development.

“It still is dedicated to all of the hard investment that small businesses and entrepreneurs make in those neighborhood business districts to create that vibrancy here,” said Lewis.

The NBA and Neighborhood Ventures began accepting peer-nominations for businesses in the 20 neighborhood districts in July, and the awards selection committee then chose the winners from the list of nominees.

Lewis indicated the common denominator for all of the businesses nominated is their investment in their neighborhood business districts.

The NBA is an advocacy organization comprised of representatives from the 20 business districts. Neighborhood Ventures is a nonprofit economic development organization supporting the work of the businesses and the neighborhoods.

“Neighborhood Ventures is proud to partner with the Neighborhood Business Alliance on the 26th Annual Neighborhood Business awards,” said Lewis. “This long-standing celebration is the only event in the city that continually recognizes the hard work and dedication of our neighborhood business owners and other community stakeholders.”

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