The RiverBend Growth Association has taken the intended mindset behind the annual Small Business Saturday “shop small, shop local” message introduced by American Express 11 years ago one step further, and they have been doing so for nearly three decades now.

The organization launched its Small Business of the Month award program in 1993 to recognize and honor the many contributions that small businesses make to the region all year long, from one month to the next, year after year.

“Our Small Business of the Month program provides a means to recognize established businesses that give exemplary service and go ‘above and beyond,’” said RBGA Communications Director Debbie Hagen. “Over the 27-plus years that we have hosted this program, we have awarded this distinction 337 times. The underlying message of Small Business Saturday has always been an important one. We like to keep delivering that message all year long, month after month.”

Designed to promote local small businesses and support their continuity, the program has awarded a small business every month since its inception, except for two months in 2020 resulting from COVID-19 pandemic conditions at the time.

Nominees come from within the organization’s membership and are scored for their community service, economic contributions, innovative products and services, response to adversity, and the appearance or image of their business.

A physical storefront is not required; virtual and remote businesses are also welcomed to join the RiverBend Growth Association membership and be nominated for the Small Business of the Month award distinction.

Each month, one RBGA member business is selected as the Small Business of the Month from the completed nomination applications submitted. Applications are reviewed by the RBGA’s Small Business of the Month Committee members Jacinda Dunlap, Brenda Eardley, Kristen Ryrie, Leslie Schobernd, Martha Schultz, Amy Smith, and Kathy Weaver.

For 2021 to date, RiverBend Growth Association Small Business of the Month honorees have included:

  • January – Rister’s Automotive, 1322 Milton Rd., Alton

  • February – Bakers & Hale Restaurant, 7120 Montclair Ave., Godfrey

  • March – Morning Glory Home Care, 224 S. Main St., Edwardsville

  • April – Brush Hair + Makeup, 5302 Godfrey Rd., Godfrey

  • May – Edward Jones – Robert Diaz, 221 Market St., Alton

  • June – Chapel & Keller Dentistry Partnership, 4113 Humbert Rd., Alton

  • July – St. Peters Hardware & Rental, 2502 State St., Alton; 804 Southwest Pl., Edwardsville

  • August – Great Rivers Tap & Grill, 3559-B College Ave., Alton

  • September – Gent Funeral Home, 2409 State St., Alton

  • October – MillerKing Law Firm, 2410 State St., Alton

  • November – Humbert Road Dentistry, 4119 Humbert Rd., Alton

Three local businesses have enjoyed being recognized with this distinction four times over during the award’s history: Andy’s Automotive, Freer Auto Body, and St. Peters Hardware & Rental.

“We at St. Peters Hardware & Rental are always so thankful to win what we see as such a reputable award,” said St. Peters’ Ellen Bennett. “To begin with, while operating a small business in the area, it is not often we get to feel a pat on the back. You can get caught up in the day-to-day operations and lose sight of the wins. Being recognized as the Small Business of the Month reinforces the service level and hard work we strive to meet each day.”

“Not only does it mean something to us, but it means something to our customers as well. Our customers congratulate us with heartfelt messages, and you can feel their pride being shared. Other local businesses also go out of their way to rejoice with us in the moment. The praise that comes full circle with winning the Small Business of the Month award is by far the most important factor,” Bennett added.

“We are grateful the RBGA offers us the opportunity to partake in an award that shines a bright light right at our business,” Bennett said further. “The positive perception of our business is improved upon by being members of the RiverBend Growth Association and by being winners of the Small Business of the Month award.”

Small business monthly winners receive a marketing and publicity package from the RiverBend Growth Association valued at approximately $4,200. The package includes:

  • a professionally developed article and accompanying photo shared with local/regional media

  • a yard sign to be displayed at the awardee’s location throughout their winning month

  • a wall plaque designating the award recipient’s recognition as Small Business of the Month

  • an interview on the air as part of a local radio segment

  • recognition and promotion of the business as the Small Business of the Month through all the RBGA’s utilized social media platforms

  • recognition as a Small Business of the Month awardee at RiverBend Growth Association events and through email communications

A business is never “too small” to be nominated or awarded either. In fact, the “smaller” small businesses are often those that struggle with getting the word out about their products, services, and promotions because they are too busy fulfilling the needs of their customers. The marketing and publicity package these winners receive can be priceless to them in terms of impact and value.

One such “smaller” small business recognized as a past recipient of the RBGA’s Small Business of the Month distinction is B&B Custom T’s & Gifts, located at 2714 Corner Court, Alton. B&B is owned and operated by Kevan and Marsha Bennett and has been in business for over 30 years.

“When we were recognized as the RBGA Small Business of the Month, we saw our business increase during the month. The plaque we received as a part of that recognition still hangs on our wall now, and continues to help promote our business,” noted B&B’s Kevan Bennett.

The RiverBend Growth Association is the Chamber of Commerce and Economic Development organization for the 11 communities known as the Riverbend. For more information about the Growth Association and its Small Business of the Month program, please visit www.growthassociation.com or call (618) 467-2280.

This article was prepared for the RiverBend Growth Association by Melissa Meske Publications,macmeske.com.