Chamber honors military, area businesses

Published 9:23 pm Friday, January 28, 2011

Staff Writer

The Washington-Beaufort County Chamber of Commerce held its 108th-annual banquet Wednesday night at the Washington Civic Center, honoring the U.S. armed forces by including Military Appreciation Night as part of the banquet.
Before the chamber presented awards to selected small-businesses owners, community leaders and others, keynote speaker Rear Adm. Clifford Sharpe shared stories of his experiences in the Navy. He presented a brief slideshow about today’s Navy and its projected future.
“Why the United States Navy?” he said. “Because 70 percent of the Earth’s surface is covered by water. And whether it’s the Navy itself, or the Navy’s Marine Corps teams, this is where the world’s conflicts begin. And 90 percent or more of the world’s trade and commerce is done by sea.”
Some of those waters, Sharpe said, are guarded by Navy SEALs, the Marine Corps and the Coast Guard.
“The Navy’s just been a good work force,” he said.
He also shared a humorous story about a petty officer who went missing abroad 10 years ago.
“He ended up showing up at a U.S. Embassy because he deserted,” Sharpe said. “And he was a really good guy, but long story short, what he had done was he ended up meeting a young lady. And she loved him right up until he didn’t have anymore money.”
The audience laughed as Sharpe said, “Yeah, you know where this story’s going.”
He said the petty officer ended up losing rank and serving 90 days in the brig (military jail.) Sharpe wanted to be the person who picked up the sailor from the brig. After he picked him up, as they were driving, Sharpe asked the sailor if being a deserter, losing rank and spending time in the brig was worth it.
The sailor, with a huge grin on his face, replied, “Yes, sir. It was the most wonderful experience of my life.”
“That was not what I thought he would say,” Sharpe said with a laugh. “He ended up staying in the Navy and making a career out of it.”
“We do have the most confident and competent Naval force in the world,” Sharpe said. “Just as every Navy person has to endure long periods of time without seeing their family, it’s always a little tough — mostly tougher on our loved ones back home.”
Sharpe said the Navy is just now learning to have an all-volunteer force.
In other action, Catherine Glover, the chamber’s executive director, discussed the past, present and future of the chamber.
Membership for 2009, Glover said, was at 341 members, and there was a 34-percent increase in 2010.
Chamber board members Chris Furlough, Lewis Sloan and Austin Smithwick were honored as past chairmen of the board.
Alma Friedman was named the chamber’s Ambassador of the Year.
The Nonprofit of the Year award was given to Beaufort County Developmental Center.
The Small Business of the Year award was presented to I Can’t Believe It’s a Book Store, owned and operated by Gary Ceres and Richard Snow.
“These two young gentlemen ran a book business since 2005 out of their home in San Diego, California,” said Lewis Jones with Wilson-Jones CPAs as he presented the award. “In December 2009, they relocated to North Carolina to be nearer to family with plans to continue an online business and no real plans to open a brick-and-mortar store. However, only 12 days after arriving, relatives suggested a drive through Washington. They fell in love with the downtown area almost instantly. They found a place with a ‘For Rent’ sign in it and decided to open their bookstore.
“The only thing missing was the name for the store, but Washington residents quickly filled the void, as they would walk by and say, ‘I can’t believe it’s a bookstore.’”
“After a successful first year, I Can’t Believe It’s a Book Store is now moving to their new location at the old Washington Bank building on Main Street,” Jones said.
The Entrepreneur of the Year award went to Charisma Boutique, owned and operated by Jennie Jones. The business opened in 2008.
A second Entrepreneur of the Year award went to Inner Banks Artisans Center, the brainchild of Bob Henkle.
The Community Leader of the Year award was presented to Janet Cox, owner of and instructor at Le Moulin Rouge de Danse.
The Business Leader of the Year award was given to Steve Lee with Lee Chevrolet.