MANSFIELD -- The Richland Area Chamber's Small Business of the Year awards were a family affair this year, with many multi-generational businesses appearing as finalists.
"My parents raised up another generation that has those values and are carrying them forward, and these businesses we are honoring today are doing just that in their scope of work," said Richland Area Chamber of Commerce President Jodie Perry. "I'm so excited to put a spotlight on your work; you've all taken a risk, fought through roadblocks, stayed up nights, and you've earned the success you're going to receive today."
This year, the top honors of the afternoon went to McCready Interiors/Norwalk The Furniture Idea, a family business currently in its third generation. The furniture company was first started by W.G. McCready in 1924, with a store that was located on the square in downtown Mansfield, Ohio.
In 1947, W.G. McCready purchased a farm on West 4th St. and with the help of his sons, Don and Bob, built W.G. McCready and Sons Furniture, “The Big Country Furniture Store.” W.G.’s grandson, Tom McCready, opened McCready Interiors in downtown Mansfield in 1993, and in 1996 Tom and Bob McCready, along with Tom’s wife, Julie, opened Norwalk The Furniture Idea on Lexington Springmill Road. Tom and Julie added the family name back to their business in 2008.
"I know my dad and my grandpa are looking down at this moment right now with a big smile on their face," said Tom McCready.
McCready Interiors/Norwalk The Furniture Idea was chosen from a pool of 72 small businesses nominated for the award this year, according to Perry. Those nominees were narrowed down to 19 semifinalists, and then again down to five finalists.
Joining the McCreadys in the finalist category were Elzy Milling and Trade, Evolve Barre Yoga Pilates LLC, Matthew Trittschuh Insurance Agency, and Miller's Diamond Jewelry. The winner will be nominated for the national award through the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
After three generations of McCreadys selling furniture in Mansfield, the company is about to enter its fourth generation. Tom and Julie's son, Graham, has officially joined the family business.
"The fact that we've been able to weather a lot of storms, to continue to grow, and the fact that we now have our son in our business is something I never would have dreamed of," said Tom McCready. "We're very privileged to have him back and for the tradition to carry on."
This was the first year for the Chamber to include a nonprofit as part of the Small Business of the Year awards. The very first honor went to the Ohio Bird Sanctuary.
"We're so humbled to have been chosen," said Gail Laux, the Sanctuary's founder and executive director. "This is a community with really powerful nonprofits and the fact that we were selected, we did jump around the building in excitement."
The Ohio Bird Sanctuary was founded in 1988 and operated from the private farm of Chris and Gail Laux. It began as three enclosures built adjacent to a barn that housed the first educational birds and the barn itself was used to condition birds for flight. Over the next 10 years four flight cages were designed and built to condition recovering raptors for release and additional enclosures were constructed to house the growing educational collection.
"Support from the volunteers, the community and our staff has built this awesome treasure we now have in Richland County," Laux said.
According to Perry, all of this year's finalists combined employ more than 50 people locally, and bring in revenues in excess of $4.8 million.
"At the end of the day, what makes Mansfield different from any other community is our small businesses," Perry said. "They are what makes a community unique. They are the heartbeat of a community."