By Kelly Daniel, Membership and Marketing manager:
NACOGDOCHES (KYTX) - The Nacogdoches County Chamber of Commerce has named Heart of Texas Gift Gallery as the 2012 Small Business of the Year. The award is one of three Gary Justice Business Excellence Awards given annually by the Chamber.
Heart of Texas owner Gerry Larabee will be recognized at the Chamber's 91st Annual Meeting and Membership Banquet presented by Andrews & Andrews Attorneys at Law, Tuesday, Sept. 25, beginning with a social hour at 6 p.m. and dinner served at 7 p.m. in the SFA Grand Ballroom, Baker Pattillo Student Center.
Walking into the downtown retail store, at 110 S. Pecan St. just west of the Nacogdoches Convention and Visitors' Bureau, the question could be "will Gerry be the first to say ‘howdy, y'all,' or will the welcome come from Gracie Ann, the ‘store dog for Heart of Texas during the day and the devil dog of Larabeeville at night,'" - as Gracie is described on her own Facebook profile page.
Most certainly, all visiting the business should have a nice experience browsing Larabee's Texas-themed merchandise as well as taking a rest at the ice cream and soda bar built by husband Tinker.
"Heart of Texas has been an anchor in downtown Nacogdoches," Melissa Sanford, CVB executive director said. "It is a great contribution to allowing our visitors' center to be open seven days a week."
Heart of Texas has always been located in downtown with the first site established on Church St. in 1994. Six months after opening, the business location moved to Pilar St. In early year 2000, Larabee was able to purchase the current store location.
The direct contributions Larabee has made to downtown development are immeasurable - or at least not as easy to measure as her spicy cheese ball and dip mixes.
"I have known Gerry since 1991 and in these years her commitment has been to help revitalize our downtown," volunteer Diana Walker said. "From the very beginning, Gerry was instrumental in helping reorganize our Downtown Business Association."
Larabee's passion for the city's thriving downtown hub is proven in her leadership and service. She has served on the Main Street Advisory board of directors for 11 years, and she is currently serving as chairman of that board. She has held other DBA offices as well throughout the years. Larabee served two years as secretary/treasurer of the CVB board of directors and is currently the chairman of the CVB board. She served on the Nacogdoches County Chamber of Commerce board of directors for three years and on the Keep Nacogdoches Beautiful board twice - including the organization's early period when KNB was Nacogdoches Proud.
Walker said Larabee was instrumental in helping get the state's Main Street designation. "She worked tirelessly on helping to put together our Main Street application which was a daunting task," Walker said. "Gerry has been the driving force behind many of our downtown projects. She has worked on the Scare on the Square committee, Nine Flags Festival board and for the past eight years a member of the Nacogdoches Convention and Business Bureau serving as president."
"Meeting people from all over the world is probably one of my favorite parts," Larabee said. "We've had people from Italy, Australia, Japan, Holland, Germany and England. The French seem the most taken back and think Nacogdoches is a lovely little town."
"We are a fun place to shop," Larabee said. Her friendly atmosphere makes the Heart of Texas a Nacogdoches destination treat for all visitors.
"Her love of our downtown can be seen through all of her volunteer efforts," Walker said. "I wish we had more downtown business owners with her commitment, and we owe a huge thank you for all of her years of dedication and hard work."
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