Every year, the Athens Area Chamber solicits nominations from the community to recognize engaged businesses and individuals who make our area stronger and more dynamic, and this year’s nomination pool was filled with exceptional nominees. The time has come to finally announce the winners – and introduce you to a new award category!
The Chamber is so excited to honor our winners at the Annual Awards and Dinner Meeting on Thursday, January 26, 2023, and we hope you will plan to join us in that celebration – tickets and sponsorships are on sale now!
Now on to our winners!
Distinguished Service Award
Our longest running award, the Distinguished Service Award is presented by the Chamber to an individual who has shown tremendous service to the community over an extended period of time.
Leslie Schaller, the Director of Programs at ACEnet and Business Director at Casa Neuva, has played an important part in the founding of several well-known organizations in Athens and has been an integral part of the local food economy for decades. As part of the original staff of the Appalachian Center for Economic Networks (ACEnet), Leslie helped to create the Food Ventures Center, ACEnet’s food kitchen incubator facility located on Columbus Road in Athens. Since 1996, this center has provided licensed commercial kitchen, thermal processing, packaging, food service, and warehouse space to several hundred food processors and area farmers.
In the early 1990s, as ACEnet was developing the Food Ventures Center, Leslie also played a leading role in creating Community Food Initiatives (CFI), writing a number of grants for CFI’s development and helping it to become a separate 501(c)3. After stepping away from CFI’s helm in 1995, Leslie then served as a board member for 15 years. Leslie is also one of the eight original worker-owners of Casa Nueva and helped to develop a business plan, secure financing, and create the foundation of their current cooperative structure. She currently serves as a partner of the Aspen Institute’s Scale Academy, the Central Appalachian Network, the Ohio Food Policy Network, the Ohio Food Hub Network and UpGrade Athens County.
Best New Business
The Best New Business award was created this year (2022) to recognize a business that has opened in the last 24 months, shows community support and engagement, and offers a much-needed service or product to the community. This award is to celebrate start-ups and entrepreneurs or to welcome a new business to our community.
740 Audio was started by Athens local TJ Hooper, a former 14-year employee and manager of Class A Sounds. When Class A closed its doors during the pandemic, TJ decided to step up and take the risk of opening a business during a pandemic, 740 Audio, in order to continue meeting the automotive accessory and customization needs of the Athens community. This move not only helped to fill the void left by the closing of Class A Sounds, but it also ensured that the customers and dollars generated by the automotive customization services stayed here in Athens.
The community’s overwhelming appreciation and support of 740 Audio and TJ Hooper was displayed in the numerous nominations made in their honor. Commonly described in those nominations as hard-working, reliable, honest, and with a deep passion for his work, TJ Hooper has ensured that his new business provides top-notch services to his customers while also becoming an important part of the Athens community by donating to multiple local high schools, clothing drives, and food drives.
The Community Support award was also created in 2014 to honor a business or individual who exemplifies community by going above and beyond to support the Athens Area for a variety of causes in the area.
Southern Ohio Copperheads
The Southern Ohio Copperheads is a community-owned, student-operated 501(c)(3) non-profit organization. Established in 2002, the Copperheads is a summer collegiate wooden bat baseball team that competes in the Great Lakes Summer Collegiate League. The Copperheads organization strives to provide the most affordable means of family-friendly outdoor entertainment in southeast OH. Staffed by Ohio University students, the Southern Ohio Copperheads also serve as a “learning lab” for student interns looking to work in the sport and entertainment industry.
In 2022, the Copperheads returned to the diamond after a two-year hiatus due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The Athens and surrounding communities welcomed the Copperheads back in full stride. 40 local businesses partnered up with the Copperheads in 2022 to ensure the organization could provide its fans and players the best experience possible. Notable achievements in 2022 include but are not limited to donating over $11K to local organizations and individuals in need; hosting over two dozen community outreach events that reached more than 1,000 youth in the surrounding areas; and, for the first time ever, providing each student intern with a small monetary stipend. The Copperheads also supported the community through many partnerships with local businesses, including with Larry’s Dawg house to manage the concession stands and offer local favorites to attendees; Airclaws Heating and Cooling to offer free admission to children 14-and-under wearing fan gear; Wendy’s to provide players, coaches, and student interns with meal cards; and Jackie O’s to create a custom beer, Homer’s Hazy IPA.
Young Professional of the Year
The Young Professional of the Year award was established in 2014 to highlight the work of individuals under 40 who have excelled in their professional lives and made an impact on their community.
Mollie Fitzgerald is the Executive Director at the Athens County Economic Development Council (ACEDC) where she works to increase economic opportunities in Athens County though business and workforce retention and attraction initiatives, collaborative regional partnerships, and site development. Prior to this role she served as the Assistant Director of the ACEDC and the Executive Director of the Athens-based nonprofit Live Healthy Appalachia. Mollie graduated from Ohio University with a degree in Health Communication Studies and has a Master of Public Administration from the George Voinovich School of Leadership and Public Service. She is deeply invested in the Athens community and serves on several community improvement boards including the Area 14 Workforce Development board, Glouster Revitalization Organization, and the Appalachian Center for Economic Networks (ACENet) board. Mollie is an active member of the Athens Community Leadership Council for Planned Parenthood. She resides in Athens with her husband Jonathan, daughter Murphy, and dog Snow. She enjoys the local craft brewing scene, exercising, and travelling with friends and family in her spare time.
Holzaepfel Economic Impact Award
The Holzaepfel Economic Impact Award was first established in 1993 and recognizes a business for exceptional economic impact on the Athens community.
Stuart’s Opera House
As a central hub of performing arts in Southeast Ohio and a host for over 75 events a year, Stuart’s Opera House is being recognized for their significant economic impact on the Athens community. Stuart’s Opera House is dedicated to their role as a regional leader in the arts community, a center for public expression, and an economic development partner for Southeast Ohio.
Serving as the cornerstone of the historic Public Square in Nelsonville, Stuart’s Opera House brings in over 30,000 visitors every year visitors, including participants in their Arts Education program, attendees at ticketed events, private rentals, and attendees at the Nelsonville Music Festival. Billboard has called Nelsonville Music Festival “one of the best-kept secrets of the U.S. music festival circuit,” and it is responsible for bringing in thousands of visitors to the Athens area every year.
Jon Sparhawk Small Business of the Year Award
This special small business recognition was instituted in 2001. Several years later, after the untimely passing of local restaurateur and Chamber Board member Jon Sparhawk, the Chamber chose to honor his achievements and memory by renaming this award. This business should have ingenious marketing promotions, a thoughtful and conscientious work ethic, and be a community supporter.
Shriver’s Pharmacy and Wellness
Shrivers Pharmacy and Wellness is an independent retail pharmacy located on West Union Street in Athens, Ohio. Co-owners and pharmacists Ben Holter and John Coler opened the Athens location in June 2018. In addition to traditional prescription services, the pharmacy offers vaccines, wellness and supplement consultations, free local delivery service, flu and covid testing, and a wide variety of locally sourced and wellness products.
In the four years since it has opened, Shriver’s Pharmacy & Wellness has quickly become a valued member of the Athens community. Shriver’s was instrumental in the rapid and efficient delivery of COVID-19 vaccines to our community, holding vaccination clinics at the Athens Community Center. Shriver’s pharmacy technicians are valued for going the extra mile to help patients understand their medications and help them find ways to save money. And Shriver’s does its part to promote our community by serving as an important commercial showcase for local vendor and artist wares, which are displayed in their establishment alongside more typical pharmacy items.