Chamber honors area's best


Recorder News Staff

Kimm Schick didn't expect to cry.

But as she graced the stage of St. Mary's Institute with her husband, Ken Schick, she couldn't hold back her emotion while accepting the Agricultural Business of the Year Award from the newly merged Fulton Montgomery Regional Chamber of Commerce at its annual dinner Friday.

"It didn't happen overnight," Ken Schick said when asked about the success of Hummingbird Winery, a 200 acre grape farm in Fultonville. "This has taken us 12 years."

The couple purchased the former dairy farm in 1998, and with a mutual passion for wine, they decided to grow grapes. In 2001, Ken and Kimm painstakingly planted 1,200 grape vines by hand. Today, they have 22,000 grape vines across 26 acres, and as the first winery in Montgomery County, it's now in its third year of operation.

The stories of struggle-turned-success could be told of any of the eight award winners Friday.

Lisa Vertucci won the Small Business Award for her Amsterdam South Side sweet shop Dolci. It was a nod toward the struggles she endured to make the Bridge Street bakery a success despite construction detours, created by long-term neighborhood infrastructure improvement projects coupled with the demolition of the former Chalmers Knitting Mill.

"There are no words," Vertucci said. "It's beyond humbling and overwhelming, it's just such an honor. I just hope I can live up to the expectations of the award."

The Amsterdam Mohawks won the Barbara V. Spraker Tourism Partner Award for its collegiate baseball team that packs the city's Shuttleworth Park every summer.

President Brian Spagnola said since he took the helm of the organization, he's watched the team break its attendance records annually, and in 2012 peaked at 42,000.

"A lot of the attendance is from Fulton and Montgomery counties, but we also draw people in from surrounding areas, and families of the out-of-state players. I think the award is appropriate because of what we do to try to draw people in," Spagnola said. "It's our drive to give people something to do locally, and it's about providing great family entertainment."

Additional Amsterdam businesses awarded Friday include the Sarah Jane Sanford Home for Women, a home for elderly women on Guy Park Avenue that underwent a $2 million expansion project in 2007.

Founded in 1896 and in operation since 1904, the non-profit received the Centennial Award. The home is governed by a Board of Trustees comprised of 11 local businessmen who manage the finances and upkeep, a Board of Lady Managers who interact with the residents in planning and attending events, and a Resident Council who addresses the concerns and interests of the home. All work together with the home administrator

"It's wonderful to be recognized by the chamber as a non-profit that's been in business more than 100 years," said Board of Trustees President Bob Kelly. "I hope it encourages people to get involved."

Dr. David Kwiat, 38, was awarded as the Young Professional of the Year. He's operated his ophthalmology practice on Holland Circle Drive in the town of Amsterdam the past two years, and this past fall, broke ground in the construction of a $1 million, privately-invested state-of-the-art eye surgery center.

"When you have something as serious as a vision problem, the only way I can think to address it is to be the best. Think of the elderly lady who relies on her vision for independence at home. Think of the truck driver who drives at night to support his family. What may seem trivial to us is crucial to others. I don't know anything else to do but be the best."

The event was the first to celebrate the recent successful mergers of the sister counties' business membership organizations. President Mark Kilmer said the organization is set to move forward not as two counties, but a single community.

"A region with 44 lakes to the north, and battlefields, forts and the Erie Canal to the south ... orchards to industrial sites, we have it all. A region unsurpassed in history, beauty and opportunity -- that region is the Fulton Montgomery region, and what made that happen was cooperation."