PORTSMOUTH — Back in person after going online last year, the Chamber Collaborative of Greater Portsmouth’s annual business awards were held outdoors at the landmark salt piles at Granite State Minerals Thursday night as the sun set.
More noticeable next to the raucous celebration tent at 227 Market Street, however, was the high pile of salt, resting beside the city’s premier business bash.
Ask Ben VanCamp, president of the chamber, about the salt, and he’ll tell you it was three truckloads worth. The theme of this year’s al fresco Chamber awards, complete with catered delicacies and the jazz stylings of Kittery-based band Bucket List, was an homage to the city’s postcard-worthy working port.
“I happen to love the working port aspects of our community,” he said. “I think it’s nice to know we still have those deep roots in the working ports.”
Dubbed “street.life!,” the Chamber awards featured a number of city leaders, including Mayor Rick Becksted and several members of the City Council, though more notably looked to honor city employees, volunteers, nonprofit leaders and business owners who helped Portsmouth’s economy fight and claw its way out of the depths of the pandemic in the last year.
VanCamp credited former Chamber president Valerie Rochon, who retired in June and was also in attendance Thursday evening, for her leadership during a time of crisis. She helped set the stage for the chamber’s return to a face-to-face awards event.
“I was happy she could be here tonight to see this community that she loves so dearly together again and celebrating together again, and I think it’s been fantastic,” he said.
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Four awards – Volunteer of the Year award, Small But MIGHTY Business of the Year award, Collaborator of the Year award and the Large Business of the Year award – had been revealed online prior to Thursday, two of which had multiple recipients.
The Large Business of the Year award recipients were several medical staples of the greater Seacoast community, honored for their tireless work under extraordinary public health circumstances: Exeter Hospital, Wentworth-Douglass Hospital, Portsmouth Regional Hospital and Lonza.
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The esteemed Portsmouth Phoenix Award, given live with individualized remarks from Becksted to each recipient, was given to three figures crucial to keeping the city economy lively and helping shuttered businesses ease back into business.
Anne Weidman of JSA Design, James Petersen of Petersen Engineering and the late Mark Stebbins, the Manchester-based developer and philanthropist who died suddenly this summer, were all given the award. All three were on the Mayor’s Blue Ribbon Committee to Reopen Portsmouth, a group that Petersen and Stebbins co-chaired.
Stebbins, who was 67 years old when he died, was the chief executive officer of ProCon, a state design-build construction company, and co-owner of a hotel chain that operates the AC Hotel on Vaughan Street.
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“He was a very caring person and leaves behind a long legacy of that. We are deeply grateful for his efforts and it was tragic to have him leave us at such an early age,” VanCamp said. “He was phenomenal, and I think his love and interest in our community was growing and shining. It’s bittersweet.”
Gazing out at the dozens of attendees, so many of whom were renowned local figures and ingrained into the city’s business sphere, Becksted said, whether they are residents or not, they’re a part of the fabric of Portsmouth.
“Everyone has stepped up when it was needed, and it definitely shows here today,” he said.
Here’s who won awards at ‘street.life!’
Volunteer of the Year
* Robin Albert
Small but MIGHT Business of the Year
* G. Willikers! Books and Toys
Collaborator of the Year
* Gather food pantry (accepted by Gather executive director Deb Anthony)
* Black Trumpet Bistro (chef and owner Evan Mallet was not present for the awards)
Large Business of the Year
* Exeter Hospital
* Wentworth-Douglass Hospital
* Portsmouth Regional Hospital
Portsmouth Phoenix Award
* Anne Weidman (JSA Design and Mayor’s Blue Ribbon Committee to Reopen Portsmouth member)
* James Petersen (Petersen Engineering and Mayor’s Blue Ribbon Committee to Reopen Portsmouth co-chair)
* Mark Stebbins (posthumous)