Downtown First Awards celebrate community spirit


Last year, Steve Billet and David Smith accepted the Downtown First award for Outstanding New Business for Ironic, their art gallery and thrift store on West Philadelphia Street.

This year, their tenants, who own the Rooted Artist Collective — across the street from Ironic — were up for the same award.

"It would be cool to hand it over to them," Billet said during the reception before the awards ceremony at Logos Academy on Thursday night. "That would be cool, to keep it on our side of the water."

The Downtown First Awards, presented by Downtown Inc, aim to recognize people, organizations and businesses that commit to improving downtown York.

The Outstanding New Business Award went to BrewVino, a restaurant on North George Street focusing on pizza, beer and wine.

Positive change: Dustin Hildebrand of Punks for Positivity, a nonprofit that aims to clean up and beautify the city, said he loves York City, where he grew up.

"It's my city, and it has a lot of potential, but it also has a lot of negative views, and we'd like to change that," he said.

Cal Weary, CEO of Weary Arts Group, was one of the first to arrive at the event because he and a cameraman were filming it.

Weary, whose company is partnering with White Rose Community Television to produce community-generated content, said, "We're cutting our teeth on the ground-level stuff so we can understand how every aspect of the station works. That will help us when it comes to creating content, building programming and finding underwriters."

Weary was also there because his company was nominated for an award.

"I am extremely flattered that we were even thought of," he said.

Maybe the company was nominated, Weary said, because it connects people and serves many different functions in the community.

"We are an organization that pulls together other organizations," he said. Weary stressed the need for cooperation rather than competition when it comes to revitalization efforts downtown.

"There are a lot more people at these events than there used to be," said Tim Fulton, program coordinator at Downtown Inc, looking out at the sea of people gathered at the reception. "It's symbolic of the fact that more people are getting involved."

The awards: Aside from the Outstanding New Business Award, there were seven others presented Thursday night. The ceremony was emceed by state Rep. Kevin Schreiber, D-York City, and City Council Vice President Henry Nixon.

The award for Outstanding Large Business went to CGA Law Firm. The firm was praised for its culture of civic involvement and the fact that employees are encouraged to participate in city life.

The Outstanding Small Business award went to attorney Richard R. Reilly. Reilly was praised for his business's involvement in First Friday and willingness to host family-oriented activities in the space.

The award for Outstanding Nonprofit Organization went to Leadership York, which educates those who wish to serve in leadership positions in the community.

The Better York Beautification Award went to Royal Square Development and Construction, which plays a key part in the revitalization efforts downtown by repurposing old buildings.

The award for Outstanding Individual (within a company or organization) went to Aeman Bashir of YorKitchen, a commercial kitchen incubator that helps small food-service businesses get off the ground and also hosts classes and events open to the community.

The award for Outstanding Volunteer went to Patrick Sells, who has created many pieces of street art for the city.

Outstanding Merchant went to Cherie Anne Designs, a store on West Philadelphia Street that sells yarn, handmade goods and jewelry and has a tea and smoothie bar. Cherie Mansberger and her daughter Amanda Axe accepted the award.

"You could say this merchant is a very important thread in a close-knit community," Schreiber quipped.

— Reach Julia Scheib at