HAVERHILL — Resilience during the coronavirus pandemic was the theme of Friday’s breakfast sponsored by the Merrimack Valley Chamber of Commerce, with more than 30 small businesses being recognized at DiBurro’s in Haverhill.

Chamber President Joseph Bevilaqua welcomed 150 guests and Robert Nelson, the morning’s keynote speaker, at the awards ceremony, which was attended by local leaders including Methuen Mayor Neil Perry, state Reps. Andy Vargas and Christina Minicucci, and state Sen. Diana DiZoglio, among others.

Nelson, the Massachusetts director of the United States Small Business Administration, applauded small business owners for getting employees paid and keeping them working so they can keep food on their tables.

“It hasn’t been a perfect ride,” Nelson said. “I continue to get calls from frantic small business owners who cry on the phone with me. I’m hearing their stories and their struggles. When you hear (what they can overcome), this is what keeps me going and from not retiring.”

The awards portion of the morning featured recognition of businesses and individuals such as Lawrence General Hospital CEO Deborah Wilson (receiving a Women in Business Award), AFC Urgent Care (partners Lisa Savinelli Williams and Zaka Shafiq accepted a Healthcare Award) and the Kiwanis Club of Greater Lawrence, recognized for its commitment to community service.

Bevilacqua and the Chamber also saluted two Haverhill-based businesses — E-Z Way Cleaners & Formal Wear and Paper Potpurri — with Longevity Awards.

Peter Carbone of E-Z Way Cleaners said he was accepting his award alone because his partner and employees were busy back at the company's several Haverhill and Bradford locations.

“Thanks to Joe, the Chamber, the SBA and our small bank, Pentucket Bank, we were able to procure the PPP (Paycheck Protection Program) loans to keep us in business when we had no business. As you’re well aware, when you’re on Zoom, pajamas do not need to be dry cleaned,” he joked while accepting his award.

“Now that I see you in suits and dresses, I hope that you’ll be patronizing your own local dry cleaner, because we were not alone," he added. "We lost 80% of our business, but now that each week goes by, we’re back almost to full force. The other side of it is that you can’t get enough workers. Now the struggle is to rehire. You are not alone.”

Elaine Barker, the 84-year-old owner of stationary business Paper Potpurri in Haverhill’s Lafayette Square section, also accepted a Longevity Award.

She said the secret to her success after 44 years in business — especially after the pandemic sent many brides and other event seekers online for invitations — is a positive attitude.

“I keep calm and accept everything that happens,” Barker said. “I do not allow negative thoughts to come into my head. With my business, many brides and clients today will go online and don’t know what they’re missing when they don’t come to someone like myself to hold their hand. I also don’t have any fear -- I have a lot of faith.”

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