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Posted June 20, 2009 | Copyright © The Northern Virginia Daily
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Chamber members praised for their resolve

Rick Novak poses inside the Royal Bowling Center
Rick Novak poses inside the Royal Bowling Center in Front Royal. Novak's Royal Entertainment Group, which includes the bowling alley, was named the Front Royal-Warren County Chamber of Commerce's Business of the Year on Thursday. Dennis Grundman/Daily

Annual dinner celebrates spirit of business community during tough economic times

By M.K. Luther -- mkluther@nvdaily.com

FRONT ROYAL -- Following a turbulent economic year, members of the Front Royal-Warren County Chamber of Commerce came together Thursday evening for the group's 64th Annual Dinner to celebrate the persistence and survival of local businesses.

Although not unscathed by the economy's downturn, business owners' ability to rally and stay afloat is a testimony to the strength of the community, said Mimi Ouakil, outgoing chairwoman of the chamber's executive board.

"We should count our community very blessed that we have weathered as well as we have with so many others struggling right now," she said.

Ouakil, the former owner of Debbie's Ivy Garden, spoke of her own personal and professional struggles, commending her competitors, vendors and customers for their ongoing support.

"Over the past year, most of us have had to make decisions that have been difficult," she said, noting that many independent business owners have had to find sources of supplemental income, make decisions about staffing cuts and, in some cases, actually close their doors.

However, in a show of strength and solidarity during a time of crisis, the local business community continued to evolve and even experienced new growth in the past year, Ouakil said.

"We have grown in some areas, with the [U.S. 340-522] corridor expanding, new and unique shops opening in the area and new industry joining us," Ouakil said.

And despite the challenges of the current business climate, the chamber succeeded in creating new tourism-related activities, bringing visitors to the area for the Wine and Craft Festival and scheduling its first official barbecue festival and cook-off, which has gained full accreditation by the Kansas City Barbecue Society, for this fall.

Before passing the ceremonial gavel to incoming chairman Patrick Nolan, of Warren Memorial Hospital, Ouakil encouraged the business community to remain unified and continue the spirit of friendly competition that has defined the Front Royal commercial landscape.

"When you see a fellow business struggling or signs of a challenge, don't walk down the street and tell someone else about it -- walk in and see what is going on," Ouakil said.

Royal Entertainment Group, owned by veteran businessman Rick Novak, was presented the chamber's Business of the Year Award. Royal Entertainment Group consists of Royal Family Cinemas, Front Royal Bowling Center and Royal Family Amusements, and partners with the public school system for fundraising and community endeavors.

"I wouldn't be accepting this tonight without the community's support," Novak said. "We try and entertain you, and we appreciate your support for that."

The chamber recognized the Blue Ridge Arts Council as its Nonprofit of the Year and Roy K. Boyles, of the county commissioner of revenue office and a School Board member, as its Citizen of the Year.

"I guess my father instilled in me the concept many years ago as a teenager to serve my community to make it a better place," Boyles said.

Mary Matthews, a retired teacher at E. Wilson Morrison and Leslie Fox Keyser elementary schools, received the Education Contributor of the Year award. Wilson became a certified reading specialist and worked full-time as a consultant with Warren County Public Schools and as a private tutor after retirement.

"I love kids," Matthews said as she accepted her award. "And that is the only way this could have happened."

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