ELLSWORTH — “I haven’t liked this summer at all,” said Brian Langley, co-owner of the Union River Lobster Pot, at the Ellsworth Area Chamber of Commerce annual awards ceremony on Thursday evening. “But you either adapt or perish, as they say.”
It was an unusual summer, of course, and an unusual awards dinner: there was an in-person event hosted by The Grand, but attendance was limited; the several hundred participants normally on hand to congratulate and schmooze were instead watching (some, presumably pajama-clad) from their homes.
Speakers acknowledged the difficulty of the times, including for the chamber itself, which was not eligible for federal Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) funding and had to furlough staff for a time.
“Although several chambers in the area have been forced to close, your support has carried us through,” said Fred Ehrlenbach, outgoing president, who extolled Executive Director Gretchen Wilson for her hard work in helping businesses navigate a particularly difficult season.
“You have no idea how many hours she has put into the chamber,” said Ehrlenbach.
Wilson, for her part, urged residents to “spend dollars locally,” on takeout dinners, gifts, donations to nonprofits and local seafood.
“Our businesses adapted, changed and worked with incredible handicaps to get through tourism season,” Wilson said. “You cannot have a healthy community without a healthy economy and vice versa.”
Apart from Langley, who was on hand to accept the chamber’s Top Drawer Award, a number of businesses were also recognized for their community contributions on Thursday. DragonFire Pizza won New Business of the Year, while Dunbar’s Store took home the Revitalization Award and Ellsworth Jewelers was recognized with the Customer Service Award.
“I couldn’t be more blessed,” said Ellsworth Jewelers owner Kimberly Colwell Snow, who was emotional while thanking her team and acknowledging the hardships of the year. “I was shocked and honored to even be nominated, and then to find out that we won was just so amazing.”
The chamber’s Citizen of the Year Award was presented to Lamoine resident, morning show host, firefighter, town administrator, umpire, referee, auctioneer and volunteer for just about everything Stu Marckoon.
“Stu is one of those rare people who, the harder he works, the more energized he becomes,” said Mark Osborne, who works with Marckoon at Star 97.7.
“I don’t know when he sleeps, he works all day long,” said Gary McFarland, owner of East Coast Performance, a common refrain throughout the evening.
“We showed up in a community 37 years ago where we knew virtually no one, and Ellsworth embraced us,” said Marckoon, thanking his wife, Bonnie, who, he said, was “taking an awful risk in suggesting we ought to get hitched in 1980.”
The top honor for a business, the Top Drawer Award, was presented to the Union River Lobster Pot. Michael Becker of E.L. Shea Builders designed the piece, a large wooden kettle turned on a lathe, set on a pedestal and engraved with the restaurant’s logo.
“It’s really quite an honor,” said Langley in a video presentation. “Especially, I would say, in this timeframe that we’re in right now. What’s Ellsworth going to look like in a year or so? What businesses are going to make it, what ones aren’t going to make it? It’s a point in time in history we’re not going to forget.”
Even Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) made a virtual appearance.
“This prestigious award is presented to a business or organization that has made a substantial contribution to the growth and development of a community, the region or the state,” Collins said. “Brian and Jane have done that on every front and on every level.”
Langley, a former educator, said the couple had enjoyed taking students under their wing.
“We have provided many kids with their first jobs, and you parents out there ought to thank us, or even pay us for doing so. There’s nothing like a 16-year-old boy mopping a floor for the first time. It’s like watching ‘Dancing with the Stars.’ They move all around the floor but not much water gets on the floor,” he said, to audience laughter. “We simply ran out of ways to do it wrong, then at some point you’re successful.”