Award winners pose together during the annual Chamber of Commerce Salute to Small Business Awards. Pictured are members of the Pregnancy Life Center, Tom Gibson of Gibson's Barnyard BBQ, Jim Collins and guest of Collins Fine Foods, and Erick McCracken of Lee Kinstle GM Sales. (DHI Media/Kirsten Barnhart)
Award winners pose together during the annual Chamber of Commerce Salute to Small Business Awards. Pictured are members of the Pregnancy Life Center, Tom Gibson of Gibson's Barnyard BBQ, Jim Collins and guest of Collins Fine Foods, and Erick McCracken of Lee Kinstle GM Sales. (DHI Media/Kirsten Barnhart)

VAN WERT – The Van Wert Area Chamber of Commerce held their annual Salute to Small Business Awards Luncheon on Thursday where local businesses and business-people were recognized for their efforts in making Van Wert a better community.

“For 14 years, we have honored the best of the best of our small businesses, and today we continue that tradition,” said Chamber CEO Mark Verville in his opening statement. “Each person here today has been impacted, directly or indirectly, by the success of a small business or has certainly been impacted by a small business represented here today.”

Nominees were submitted and a committee chose those they felt best represented the category. Categories included Spirit of Entrepreneurship, Charitable Non-Profit, Service Industry Showcase, Retail Champion, Palate Pleaser, and Community Champion.

Lee Kinstle GM Sales owner Eric McCracken was awarded the Community Champion award and the Service Industry Showcase award.

Lee Kinstle GM Sales has been operating since 1970. McCracken purchased the dealership in 2008.

“There are many people in our community who do meaningful things for one another, and Eric is one of those,” said Main Street Van Wert Director Mitch Price. “When his name is mentioned, two thoughts come to mind: involved and willing to help.”

McCracken is involved in many organizations in the community and holds an annual Toss-A-Toy event to help collect toys for the local Salvation Army that are then given to children.

“Eric McCracken is what Van Wert is all about,” said Price. “We are a better place because of Eric McCracken.”

“It should go without saying, but a lot of times we need to remind each other, this is a great place,” said McCracken of Van Wert. “It’s a great place to raise your kids, it’s a great place to grow up, it’s a great place to get a job, and it’s a great place to stay or come back to.”

The Community Champion award is given to an established small business or person that has exhibited exemplary service to the community over time to strength Van Wert County and improve the lives of residents.

The Service Industry Showcase award is given to an established business in the service industry that has sound business practices and shows excellence and a willingness to support community-oriented projects through the use of time and other resources.

Other nominees were Youngs Waste Services and Lauries Naturescapes.

The Spirit of Entrepreneurship award went to Collins Fine Foods. The award is designated for an innovative, established business that demonstrates commitment, initiative, and profitability to support community-oriented projects through their time and resources.

Other nominees were Young’s Waste Service and Sister’s Bridal Boutique.

Collins Fine Foods was also awarded the Retail Champion award which is given to a business that demonstrates sound business practices and a commitment to support community-oriented projects.

Other nominees were Lauries Naturescapes and Laudicks Jewelry.

The Charitable Non-Profit award is given to a company or organization that has a history as an established charitable non-profit organization with a volunteer board of directors. They must demonstrate sound business practices, innovation, and leadership in offering human services within the community. The Pregnancy Life Center received the award.

Other nominees included Main Street Van Wert and the YWCA of Van Wert County.

The final award was Palate Pleaser, which was awarded to a business that demonstrates sound business practices, excellence, and supports community-oriented projects. The award was given to Gibson's Barnyard BBQ.

Other nominees included Ragers Original Sausage Sandwich and El Mexicano.

The luncheon was held at Willow Bend Country Club who provided a meal.