Stories of growth, reaching milestones and overcoming devastating challenges brought hundreds to River Stone Manor in Scotia on Thursday afternoon in the name of good news.
The annual Good News Awards Luncheon organized by The Chamber of Schenectady County honored businesspeople and educational and nonprofit leaders who made a positive difference in the past year.
For Lyle’s Hoagies owners Doreen Pitsas and Brad McCormack, the event was a pat on the back after tragedy. Lyle’s Hoagies co-partner Keith McCormack, a man described as putting his heart and soul into his business, died at his home last June, having a heart attack not long after recent knee surgery.
“It was a big shocker,” said his son, Brad McCormack.
Pitsas said she knew Keith didn’t want the business to close if anything happened to him. She decided to keep the businesses’ locations on Erie Boulevard and State Street open, stepped up to the challenge and carried on. Brad McCormack took a break from Union College and went to work for the business full-time.
Another story of endurance was told through Hot Harry’s Fresh Burritos, a Schenectady-based restaurant chain whose headquarters on Union Street was badly damaged in a fire last fall.
Owner Samir Abdallah told attendees how he gutted his flagship location, replacing everything from the ceiling to the floor to restore his business, which reopened in mid-January.
“It meant a lot to have the support of Schenectady,” he said.
Other honorees shared stories of growth, including Bellamy Construction owners Greg and Brian Bellamy, whose 35-year-old business moved to a new headquarters in Scotia last year.
Schenectady County legislator Angelo Santabarbara, D-Rotterdam, was honored through his family business, SB Cheese Company, which donates all of its proceeds to children’s charities. Sales growth in 2009 increased its contribution to the Autism Society of America to $4,700 from $1,400 in 2008, a more than threefold increase.
Santabarbara, a first-generation Italian-American, credits his parents, Maria and Angelo, for the basket cheese recipe that is a family tradition he grew up with and continues today with his children.
“These are the traditions that keep family together,” he said.
SB Cheese, which began in 2008 after Santabarbara featured the recipe on a local cooking show, is currently looking for a new community kitchen to make its cheese. It has outgrown its current kitchen location in Rotterdam, Santabarbara said.
Jeffrey Clark, executive director of Habitat for Humanity of Schenectady County, talked of how the organization is on track to meet its building goals of 25 houses in five years, a pledge made when he joined the organization in 2005. Clark also touted the recent announcement that Habitat is moving its office and ReStore operation to the former SACC-TV building at 115 N. Broadway.
Michael McPartlon, vice president of Kingsway Community on Kings Road in Schenectady, highlighted the strides made on its expansion, which began last year. The project includes a $10 million investment that created 20 jobs, adding 50,000 square feet to the nursing and rehabilitation facilities that also will increase the number of private rooms to 134 from 58.
The chamber also honored Schenectady County Community College Associate Dean Martha Asselin, who helped the college secure a $447,500 grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to start the Smart Scholars Early College High School on Sept. 1. More than 120 students have enrolled as of Thursday, Asselin said.
“We have a lot of reasons to feel good. This is a top-notch community and that’s why we’re here to celebrate,” Schenectady Chamber President and CEO Chuck Steiner said.
Steiner also said the stories are a clear indication of the area’s continuing momentum of development, investment and growth. “People want to come here.”