ACOC recognizes business community at Business Excellence Awards



By Ron Giofu


In what was the largest Business Excellence Awards (BEA) yet, the Amherstburg Chamber of Commerce (ACOC) recognized some of the top business owners and operators in town.

“It’s a record-breaker tonight,” said ACOC board member Dan Gemus during last Friday night’s BEA’s. “We have over 220 people seated.”

There were 11 awards handed out with ten of the winners not knowing they had won until their name was revealed during the ceremony.

“It’s a huge honour to be recognized by your community, your clients and your peers,” said Gemus.

ACOC board president Carolyn Davies said it was “exciting to see so many dynamic businesses” and that the Chamber is trying to foster economic growth in Amherstburg.

“It has been a very busy year for the Chamber of Commerce,” said Davies.

The winners of the Amherstburg Chamber of Commerce’s (ACOC) Business Excellence Awards gather for a group photo after the April 27 awards banquet at Pointe West Golf Club.

Davies said the ACOC partners in community events, holds networking events, works with town administration, holds quarterly meetings with Mayor Aldo DiCarlo and focuses on directly supporting local businesses.

The ACOC plans to host all candidate nights in advance of the Oct. 22 municipal election, she added.

Currently, the Chamber has 158 paid members.

“The Chamber of Commerce’s strength is in its members and its focused planning,” said Davies.

Davies also endorsed the town’s recent takeover of the River Lights Winter Festival, believing the festival will grow and prosper with the town’s resources behind it.

The award for Excellence in Customer Service went to Pittao’s AutoCare, with Mark and Heather Pittao thanking their staff and customers as well as the ACOC for the award.

The Fort Fun Centre captured the Most Attractive Improvement Award for the total redesign of what was the former Verdi Club. Co-owner Brad Hearn commented that they appreciate “everyone who comes to visit us.”

The Customer Service/Community Involvement Award was won by Amherstburg Chevrolet Buick GMC, with dealers Scott Elliott and Mike Bezzoubkin accepting the award and pledging to continue to give back to the community.

The Growth and Expansion Award went to Lights Sound Action Entertainment Services, with thanks given by Mike Chase when he accepted the award.

The Investing in a World Class Workforce Award was won by Amherstburg Home Health Centre with owner Luigi DiPierdomenico thanking not only the ACOC, but family, friends, supporters and the medical team that works out of the Sandwich St. S. facility.

The Eighteen 12 Poutinerie captured the Excellence in Food Service Award. Owner Shannon Pelletier said they want their employees to enjoy coming to work and for their customers to feel welcome and at home when they go there.

The Welcoming Accessibility Award was captured by Amherstburg Community Services (ACS). ACS executive director Kathy DiBartolomeo said the staff is happy to carry on the legacy that began 45 years ago. They have over 100 volunteers that help offer the various programs that ACS provides.

“We love what we do,” said DiBartolomeo.

The Business Legacy Award was presented to Paul and Sharon Jones, former owners of the Towne Shoppe. Paul said Amherstburg has been a great place to run a business and is also a great place to live. He added their thanks to their customers and staff, and pointed out they have since sold the business to Mackie Jones.

The New Business of the Year Award was won by the G.L. Heritage Brewing Co. Co-owner Jen Desjardins-Grondin thanked those who helped them launch the Howard Ave. craft brewery and noted they are extremely proud to be in Amherstburg.

The Business of the Year Award was won by Sprucewood Shores Estate Winery. President Steve Mitchell said they are excited for what lies ahead for Amherstburg and that the area’s wine industry will also boom as it is surrounded by six million people.

“I’m really excited about the prospects for Amherstburg,” he said.

The Amherstburg Chamber of Commerce Director’s Choice Award was given to the Amherstburg Freedom Museum this year. Board president Monty Logan accepted the award, pointing out museum attendance increased 35 per cent in 2017.

“It’s an honour for the museum to be recognized for the work we do in the community,” said Logan. “We truly appreciate the support Amherstburg has shown us. We are proud to call Amherstburg home. We feel loved.”

For more photos, visit our Facebook album.

Town to take over River Lights Winter Festival



By Ron Giofu


The River Lights Winter Festival is now going to be run directly by the town.

While a volunteer committee oversaw the festival for its first decade in existence, the town will now take it over after the request was made by the Amherstburg Chamber of Commerce. According to a report from manager of tourism and culture Anne Rota, River Lights draws over 20,000 people annually to the downtown core and the volunteer committee has raised over $550,000 for the festival.

“Administration has met with the Chamber and its subcommittee on a number of occasions related to the above request. The basis for the request lies in the limited ‘go forward’ capacity, in terms of resources, of the Chamber to continue to deliver the festival,” Rota stated in her report.

There are 109 displays that are being transferred to the town, valued at approximately $100,000, with the River Lights committee also having about $25,000 cash in the bank and $25,000 in investments. Rota’s preliminary forecast for 2018 calls for $70,000 in revenue and expenses totalling $65,000.

The River Lights Winter Festival drew an estimated crowd of 28,000-30,000 people in 2017-18.

The town historically has committed $5,000 under the approved base budget “however, if event costs are covered by revenues from third parties and the town is directly operating the request, no further town contribution may be required,” Rota wrote.

Rota added the parks department labour costs have traditionally be donated in-kind. The 13-member volunteer committee, she added, would be interested in continuing to assist.

Councillor Diane Pouget said she supported the request.

“It’s the only way we can keep it,” she said. “We have to agree to take on the project.”

CAO John Miceli said he believes the festival will be enhanced. Miceli was questioned by Councillor Leo Meloche as to whether this will be a line item in the budget, and Miceli answered in the affirmative.

The River Lights has been named a “Top 100 Festival in Ontario” eight times by Festivals and Events Ontario (FEO).

Nominations open for ACOC’s Business Excellence Awards

By Ron Giofu


The best of the best in Amherstburg’s business community will be on display April 27 but now is the time to let the Amherstburg Chamber of Commerce (ACOC) know who the public thinks is the best.

Nominations are now open for the ACOC’s Business Excellence Awards with the public invited to let the Chamber know who they think the winners should be. ACOC president Carolyn Davies pointed out they have modified the categories slightly, with the major change being elimination of Large Business of the Year and Small Business of the Year and going with Business of the Year and New Business of the Year instead.

There are 11 categories in all with the Welcoming Accessibility Award being a new addition for this year. Davies said that award is geared towards businesses who have taken steps to allow those with disabilities greater access to their establishments.

Other categories include Excellence in Customer Service, Most Attractive Improvement, Community Service/Community Involvement, Growth & Expansion, Investing in a World Class Workforce, Excellence in Food Services, Business Legacy and the ACOC Director’s Choice Awards.

Davies said it is a chance to recognize hard working local businesspeople for the efforts they do and the commitment they make.

“Business owners work hard trying to provide a good service,” she said, adding for many it’s a 24/7 commitment.

The ACOC Business Excellence Awards are a way for the community to show their appreciation to the business community, Davies noted.

Nomination forms can be dropped off at Gibb Insurance, the River Town Times, the Dan Gemus Real Estate, Duby’s Home Centre or people can visit The awards will be handed out April 27 at Pointe West Golf Club. Tickets are $50 per person and available at the same locations.

ACOC reflects on the past year during recent AGM



By Ron Giofu


Board members with the Amherstburg Chamber of Commerce (ACOC) gathered at the Lord Amherst Public House restaurant for their annual general meeting and reflected back on their most recent year.

Among the board executive in attendance were president Carolyn Davies, treasurer Chris Gibb and directors Ray Bezaire, Janet Willoughby and Dan Gemus and they looked back on some of the ACOC’s more recent accomplishments.

“We got a lot of successful networking projects done,” said Davies.

The ACOC also supported local events, such as the town’s Canuck It Up! Festival.

“It’s been a very busy year,” she said.

Gibb pointed out the chamber had “successful lawsuit” regarding the 2015 Mardi Gras with organizer Ian France ordered to pay back overpayments amounting to $8,607.64, plus interest, as well as legal fees. The total amount of the reimbursement, according to ACOC officials, was $10,812.30.

“We got a settlement we worked a long time for,” said Gibb. “We’re glad to have that behind us.”

Dan Gemus, Carolyn Davies, Janet Willoughby, Ray Bezaire and Chris Gibb discuss the business of the Amherstburg Chamber of Commerce as part of the organization’s AGM Feb. 15.

Bezaire noted they are going to reinvest that money back into the membership, stating they are guardians of other people’s money.

Davies said plans for the future include focusing on direct support for businesses, whether that be through networking support, social media or other means at the ACOC’s disposal.

Bezaire noted the chamber wants to work with the Town of Amherstburg on business attraction and retention. Davies added they meet quarterly with Mayor Aldo DiCarlo to discuss “issues of importance” to the business community.

“We are going to be having the Business Excellence Awards,” Davies stated. “That will be happening at the end of April.”

With the municipal election being Oct. 22, the ACOC also plans on hosting all-candidates nights.

The Amherstburg Chamber of Commerce currently has 154 paid members, a number that they are pleased with.

“It’s huge for a town like Amherstburg,” added Gibb.

For more information on the ACOC or to join, visit, e-mail or call 519-736-2001.

Just a few days left to participate in “12 Days of Christmas” Scavenger Hunt



By Jolene Perron


As part of Amherstburg’s annual winter festival, the Amherstburg Chamber of Commerce is always looking for ways to expand the festival and bring the local businesses more exposure.

“The 12 days of Christmas is a scavenger hunt style event that started with a handful of down town businesses three years ago,” explained Chris Gibb, board member of Amherstburg Chamber of Commerce. “Each year it has grown until we now have a situation where we it is ‘first come, first served.’ It’s really grown into an event all by itself. Our goal is to create a unique way for people to discover businesses they might not otherwise know about. It also helps the businesses reach new customers that may have never visited their location in the past.”
Gibb explained this year they had even more businesses apply than they had spaces for, and joked it may turn into 15 or 17 days of Christmas in the coming years, and it just goes to show the support the local businesses have the community.

The idea of the scavenger hunt, is the participating businesses each have a “prop” in their stores. This “prop” is a 3D sculpture created by Just Cork It owner and artist Lori Bezaire. From 11 pipers piping, to a partridge in the pear tree, Bezaire created 10 of the 12 props used by the local businesses.

“We put them in the stores in a corner somewhere, so it makes people go through the store to look for the prop,” explained Bezaire. “We’re asking the store owners to promote their business while people are going through and then once they find the prop they can get their stamp. We decided it would be better to do it over 12 days, so it gave these businesses a longer period of time for them to be able to promote their businesses more and not just have people running through to get a stamp. We are hoping this will bring people through stores that they may not have ever been through and shop local.”

Bezaire’s involvement with the sculptures started when she spent nine months creating Bumble from Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer, which was followed by her creation of Frosty from Frosty the Snowman.

“I am totally honored, I love being creative and it’s nice to share and I love our community so be able to participate and even as a store owner to be able to promote our business as well, I love Amherstburg and to be able to share and be creative with the town of Amherstburg is an honor to me,” said Bezaire. “I love the idea of the 12 Days of Christmas, for me it’s an opportunity for all of the businesses to network together and promote one another. A strong business core makes for a strong town, I’m hoping this will inspire that.”

The participating businesses this year are 67 Richmond Street, Amherstburg Audiology, Duby’s Home Centre, Embrace Dental Hygiene, Just Cork It, Libro Credit Union, Mealtime Express, Precision Jewellers, River Canard Outpost General Store, Royal Canadian Legion Fort Malden Branch 157, Sotto and Wolfhead Distillery. No purchase is necessary to participate in the event, and those who get all 12 stamps are eligible for a prize valued at $600. The winner will be announced at the River Light “Ignite the Night” opening ceremony this Saturday at 6 p.m.