11 Suffolk businesses honored

Published 10:41 pm Thursday, March 10, 2011

Eleven Suffolk businesses have been tapped as the “best of the best.”

The small businesses were nominated for the Hampton Roads Chamber of Commerce’s Small Business of the Year award. Businesses that fill out the application and meet other criteria will compete for the Suffolk Small Business of the Year. That business then will compete against the city winners from Chesapeake, Portsmouth, Norfolk and Virginia Beach for the regional award.

About 90 nominations came in from throughout the five cities, said Lisa Jones, director of communications and marketing for the Hampton Roads Chamber.

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The Suffolk businesses that received nominations were: A. Dodson’s; Bennett’s Creek Pharmacy; Divine Creations Bakery; Flexa Furniture, Inc.; Mama’s Closet; Primo 116 Bistro Italiano; Rebecca Keeling Studios; River Stone Chophouse; Shooting Star Gallery; Skydive Suffolk, Inc.; and Vintage Tavern.

Nominated businesses receive applications in the mail, which they then fill out and return. Not every business that gets nominated applies, Jones said. Some also may not meet the criteria: Businesses must be under an employment maximum, have less than $10 million in gross revenues in 2010 and have been in business for more than three consecutive years.

Eligible applicants are judged on financial performance, history, staff training, community involvement, customer service, growth strategies and other criteria.

Larry Pennington, owner of Skydive Suffolk, said he believes his company was nominated because it focuses on people.

“We’re a very people-oriented business,” he said. “We’re extremely safety-conscious, and I’ve been able to hand-pick the people that work for me. I’ve got the best there is.”

Skydive Suffolk has been at the Suffolk airport for more than 25 years. The business just moved to a larger hangar and has several military training contracts. It employs 22 people on a part-time basis and conducted about 12,500 jumps last year.

“Things are looking up,” he said.

Brenda Wright of Shooting Star Gallery, like Pennington, also did not know who nominated her. She’s a past winner, having also been honored in 2003. She thinks she’s being honored again because of 15 years of consistency at the downtown Suffolk store.

“I started out just having a studio for myself,” she said. “I figured if I had the location, if I wanted to support the arts in this community as much as I do, I have sort of an obligation to show other people’s work.”

Wright currently is the only employee at gallery, besides a few part-time helpers.

At A. Dodson’s on Bridge Road, owner Alison Dodson Anderson said the store has been growing at least 15 percent per year.

“I think [2009] was our worst year, and we were up 15 percent that year,” she said. “We’re still hitting that growth strut. We’re already on target to have an even better year than we did last year.”

The awards will be presented May 19 in Virginia Beach. For more information, visit www.hamptonroadschamber.com.