A family-run dance studio, a chain of Maine department stores and an appliance and furniture shop are the three recipients this year of the President’s Award from the Kennebec Valley Chamber of Commerce.

The chamber will present the awards at its annual banquet Friday, Jan. 27, at the Augusta Civic Center.

Winners of the President’s Award are Kennebec Dance Centre in Augusta; Renys Department Store, which operates a local store in Gardiner; and Steve’s Appliance Service and Sales in Sidney.

“The President’s Awards are typically for smaller- to medium-size businesses,” said Peter Thompson, president and chief executive officer of the chamber. “They’ve shown some tedious effort to become successful within our marketplace, have shown success, are employing people and are growing and are involved in making contributions to the community.”

Kennebec Dance Centre

When Keltie McCatherin Collins began her career in dance, she was just 3 years old.

It was the 1950s and Collins was receiving instruction from her two older sisters at the Bunker and Savage building on Winthrop Street overlooking downtown Augusta. When the McCatherin Dance Studio closed after 10 years, Collins continued her dancing education.

She reopened the family dance studio in 1973 during her senior year in high school and became the youngest teacher yet to coach the dancing chorus for Cony High School’s Chizzle Wizzle.

More than three decades later, Collins, 57, still has the same objectives in mind.

“When I first started teaching, I wanted kids to enjoy dance, and to this day that’s my main goal,” Collins said.

Her Augusta business has grown to include three studios and other dance teachers: her two daughters, Heather Barlow and Holly Collins Gannett, plus Andrew Michaud Tracy, and a few part-time teachers. In 2004, she built a new dance studio on Civic Center Drive.

“The teachers are very qualified to help me take our students wherever they want to go,” Collins said. “We’ve had great success stories: a lot of kids go on to dance professionally on Broadway or to a professional ballet company.”

The studio has about 275 students, ranging in age from 3 to 50-something, Collins said.

She said tears came to her eyes when she learned about winning the award. She couldn’t believe she was chosen.

Collins said she cannot envision her career in dance ending.

“It’s just been a joy to be able to work in the community,” she said. “And I couldn’t have done it without the support of my family, especially the support of my husband, Joe Collins.”

Renys Department Store

Robert H. Reny opened his first family-owned department store in Damariscotta in 1949. To jump-start the business, the man known as R.H. traveled around the small towns making connections and friends.

Times have changed and the Maine company now maintains 16 stores with more than 500 employees, even as large chain stores challenge the viability of family-owned operations.

Relationships have been key to that success and survival, said 60-year-old John Reny, R.H.’s oldest son and the company’s president. His 28-year-old daughter, Faustine, is the company’s assistant vice president.

“When my father first started, it was a dried-goods store — domestics mostly and we didn’t do food then,” John Reny said. “He was trying to sell stuff he got deals on and we still continue to do that. But when the Walmarts came to Maine it wasn’t business as usual anymore. You had to make your niche and have better quality stuff and really focus on customer service and treating customers right. A lot of it is relationships — that’s huge.”

Those relationships also extend to vendors, he said.

“We’re big yet small enough to get nice sweet deals out there,” Reny said. “So, hopefully we’re the ones, when a vendor has a deal, we get the first call.”

The Renys store on Water Street in downtown Gardiner was the family’s third store in Maine when it was established in the 1950s. It employs between 20 and 30 people, depending on the season.

Reny said the Gardiner store has expanded from a small operation to about 25,000 square feet among three buildings.

“We’ve been there a long time and expanded quite a bit,” he said.

He said the store staff were honored and surprised by the chamber award.

Steve’s Appliance

Steve and Darcy Barrows never thought they’d grow a business, literally, out of their garage.

But that’s what they did in 1992, using the 600-square-foot space in Sidney. Steve Barrows, an appliance repair man, drove from Westbrook to Bangor, morning to late at night, repairing and delivering appliances.

The long hours and hard work paid off. Their shop grew into a 6,000-square-foot appliance and sales service center in 1995. Darcy Barrows left a bank job the following year and joined her husband in managing the business.

In 2010, the Barrows built an 18,000-square-foot store from scratch at the intersection of routes 27 and 23 in Sidney. The appliance and furniture center opened last year.

“We’ve just kind of grown slowly, worked hard,” said Steve Barrows, 42. “The expansions allowed us to expand our furniture and mattress lines, primarily.”

And the Barrows decided to expand amid the Great Recession, which was “always a concern,” Barrows said.

“But we have a very loyal customer base and we were comfortable with the decision we made,” he said.

With better visibility on busy Route 27, Barrows said the business now attracts more walk-in customers and continues to grow its furniture line. The store has about 15 employees.

“The location has been tremendous for us,” he said.

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