By Kaitlin Candelaria
The Alabama Retail Association in partnership with the UAB Collat School of Business honored the 2015 Retailers of the Year at a ceremony at the Vestavia Hills Country Club on Oct. 5.
Out of 70 statewide nominations, 13 businesses were selected in categories including annual sales less than $1 million, annual sales $1-5 million, annual sales $5-20 million, annual sales more than $20 million and the Gee Emerging Retailer of the Year.
Businesses were nominated by their chambers of commerce and other respective organizations. Stu Crum, president of Bridgestone Retail Operations, spoke at the luncheon, detailing his appointment to the job last year and how he’s used his retail background to revolutionize the company’s marketing strategies and customer service goals.
Jim Watkins, owner of Steel City Pops which got its start in downtown Homewood was chosen to receive the Gee Emerging Retailer of the Year award. The award is given to honor the late Mickey Gee, former chairman of the Alabama Retail Association and UAB professor.
“Gee, who worked in retail all his life as owner of The Pants Store, played a pivotal behind-the-scenes roll in the development of the Retailer of the Year awards,” the press release said. “The Gee Emerging Retailer of the Year award goes to an innovative and effective Alabama retailer who has been in business for at least two years, but less than five year. According to the award criteria, the Gee award is only presented in years when the judges determine a candidate is worthy of the Gee name.”
Watkins started his homemade pop business a little over three years ago. He has now expanded his fresh and colorful pops to six other stores in Alabama and an additional three stores in Texas.
According to the press release, Watkins is honored to be selected but most excited about the attention it brings to the community.
“Our passion for being local stems from the selection of a potential retail space and follows through to the intention to which we devote our energy there,” Watkins said. “We are very centered on being a part of the community and working with other retailers and partners of the community where our stores are located.” Watkins’ stores employ over 100 people.
Silvertron Cafe, owned by Over the Mountain residents Marco and Elan Morosini, was recognized as a bronze winner in the $1-5 million dollar category. The restaurant owners bought Silvertron, located in the Forest Park neighborhood of downtown Birmingham, eight years ago in the midst of the recession. Since then, they have revitalized the space and in turn, the neighborhood.
“As a business owner, you draw the line where a business is,” Marco said. “For some, it is the front door and the back door. For others and me, it is the community where the restaurant is.” Marco is also the president of the Forest Park South Avondale Merchant Association.
In that same category, Will Haver, owner of Mountain Brook-based Otey’s Tavern, took home the silver award. Haver serves as the president for the Mountain Brook Chamber of Commerce and also runs another successful restaurant chain — Taco Mama.
“The Retailer of the Year judges praised Haver and his staff for Otey’s impressive growth and their commitment to the community,” the press release said. “Haver credits Otey’s growing productivity results to the extraordinarily low turnover rate in its staff. He also cited a new emphasis on catering efforts over the past year, allowing him to hire a full-time catering director.”
In the $5-20 million dollar category, Todd and Sonya Jackson, owners of CKJ Eateries LLC and the masterminds behind Newk’s, earned the silver title. The college sweethearts founded their food company eight years ago and now boast six Birmingham-area locations and over 200 employees.
“We are in the restaurant business because we love food,” the Jacksons said in a press release. “And most of all, we love to see the smile son our guests’ faces when they taste our food for the first time and experience our difference. We are in the business of food. But truly, it is a labor of love.”
For more information on the Alabama Retail Association, visit www.alabamaretail.org.