HAVERHILL —The Merrimack Valley Chamber of Commerce honored the success of more than 40 small businesses in the area, celebrated the rebirth of one of them, and gave a crowd of 200 people insight into what some of these companies produce, including some that sell their products nationally.
Among the businesses honored were two family concerns: Joe's Playland in Salisbury, which is celebrating its 100th year in operation, and the John Breen Funeral Home in Lawrence, which is celebrating its 150th year.
The chamber held its annual small business awards breakfast on Friday at DiBurro's in Ward Hill, where it recognized businesses in 20 different categories, including health care, innovation, manufacturing, retail, wholesale, service and women in business.
Keynote speaker, Robert Nelson, Massachusetts director of the U.S. Small Business Administration, praised small businesses, saying half of all Americans either own or work for a small business.
"It's hard work running a small business," he said, noting that small businesses create two thirds of all jobs in America and are the also the drivers of innovation.
Nelson said that the state's unemployment rate of 2.9 percent represents a 60-year low, which he said is the lowest since 1969.
"It's a good time to be a small business here in Massachusetts," he said, adding that small businesses not only support their communities, but also "treat their employees like family."
"Many are true family-owned businesses supporting several generations," he said.
Joseph Bevilaqua, president and CEO of the Merrimack Valley Chamber, kicked off the awards program by recognizing Joe's Playland.
"I think the majority of you have been there, and if you haven't been there, you're going to be taking your kids, your grand-kids, your nieces and nephews, and more importantly yourself," Bevilaqua joked about the popular Salisbury Beach arcade he said was started by an immigrant family. Donna Abdulla, whose family founded and operates Joe's Playland, accepted the chamber's cultural/tourism award.
Charles Breen, John Breen and Lisa Breen accepted the chamber's longevity award.
"It's been an honor to serve every family that has come through our doors," John Breen said about his family's 150-year-old business.
This year's perseverance award was presented to Cedardale Health & Fitness. Carolyn Veasey Jackson accepted the award on behalf of her family, and announced that Cedardale in Bradford recently held its grand opening.
"I want to put a special shout out to my parents, Ed and Zoey Veasey, who started Cedardale about 48 years ago and never wavered in their commitment to rebuild the club and have been an integral part of the process since the fire," she said.
Cedardale in Bradford suffered a devastating fire in 2017 that destroyed most of the club. The redesigned and modernized club recently opened.
The Southwick Factory Store in Haverhill garnered praise from Bevilaqua, who touted Southwick for manufacturing its Brooks Brothers suits in Haverhill.
Gena Hatch, who accepted one of the chamber's retail awards, reminded the crowd that the factory store offers finely tailored men's clothing at up to 70 percent off retail and is open Tuesdays through Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Two food businesses received the chamber's wholesale awards: Jessica's Brick Oven Bakery, which now sells its artisan breads across the country, and KettlePizza, which manufactures specially designed stainless-steel inserts that fit into your gas or charcoal grill for cooking pizza.
"Last month we shipped direct to people in 70 countries," said George Peters of KettlePizza.
Merrimack Valley Chamber Small Business Awards:
Business assistance: MassHire Merrimack Valley Workforce Board; Awilda Irizarry - Small Business Development Center
Cultural/tourism: Joe's Playland; Methuen Festival of Trees
Discovery/education: Haverhill YMCA; Merrimack Valley YMCA, YWCA Northeastern Massachusetts
Environmental: Revise Energy, Schneider Electric Andover R&D Center
Health care: Home Health VNA, Trinity EMS
Innovative: Smolak Farms; Yaskawa-Solectria Solar
Longevity: John Breen Memorial Funeral Home; The Eagle-Tribune
Manufacturing/R&D: CIL Inc.; Merrimac Industrial Sales
Media advocate: Haverhill Life; WHAV
Minority owned: Alberto Nunez Real Estate Management; RUMBO
Next generation leaders: Dan Melo-DRM Solutions; Raeann Keeley-Pellerin, Servpro of Lawrence/Andovers
Nonprofit/community service: Elder Services of the Merrimack Valley; Methuen Senior Activity Center
Perseverance: Cedardale Health & Fitness; Veterans Northeast Outreach Inc.
Retail: Royal Jewelers; Southwick Factory Store
Service: All-Pro Electric; E.J. Paving Company Inc.; TEC Inc. The Engineering Corp.
Special job creation award: New England Die Cutting; Straumann USA LLC.
Veteran owned business: Edgar Racicot Funeral Home
Wholesale: Jessica's Brick Oven Inc.; KettlePizza
Women in business: Kate Cook-Comfort Home Care; Tricia Sabulis-A.P. Michaud Insurance Agency Inc.
Special salute to family-owned businesses: Harrows Chicken Pies; Joe Fish Seafood Restaurant/The Loft Restaurant; Landmark Finish Inc.; Mailloux Bros. Construction, and Maria's Family Restaurant.