GARDINER — Leon Emery will be the first to tell you that he hasn’t succeeded at everything he’s done.

“I’ve had to close a couple of businesses,” Emery said.

There seems to be little threat of that for Emery’s Meat and Produce, the meat shop that Emery and his family run on Bridge Street in Gardiner. On the Thursday before Christmas, the customer traffic was steady as customers picked out the cuts of meat they wanted for the holidays. Emery had planned to take off the day before to get in a little fishing during the very busy holiday season, but that wasn’t to be.

Emery learned how to cut meat as a child and has operated a number of businesses, including other meat markets and a slaughter facility.

Open in Gardiner for just about two years, the shop has established itself in the fabric of the city, which is building its brand as a food hub.

And now, Emery’s Meat and Produce is making its mark in a different way. It has been named the 2017 Small Business of the Year by the Kennebec Valley Chamber of Commerce. Emery’s will be honored on Jan. 27 at the 2017 Kenney Awards in Augusta.

Sitting in the audience a year ago when Rocky’s Stove Shoppe was honored, Emery said he resolved to win the award for his business, and since then he and his staff have worked hard to accomplish that.

Among the criteria for this award is community involvement and economic impact, and Emery’s rates high in both categories.

Recruited to bring their business to Gardiner from Augusta through the Gardiner Growth Initiative, Leon and Denise Emery, who live in Litchfield, embraced their new community and continued their longstanding practice of supporting community events and organizations.

And they support people, too, through a program they have named “Buy a Pound, Give a Pound,” through which customers can buy a pound of meat for someone in need.

“People see how much you put back into the community,” Emery said, noting that sharing profit is important.

“They have a personal commitment to improving where they are,” Patrick Wright, executive director of Gardiner Main Street and Gardiner’s economic development coordinator, said. “They became immediately involved. Customers pay attention and (the Emerys) know customers pay attention, but you also get the sense that they do it because it’s the right thing to do.”

The Emerys have also become active in the Kennebec Valley Chamber of Commerce, serving as ambassadors and inviting people to attend chamber events.

The Emerys were at a crossroads before they relocated from Eastern Avenue in Augusta to Gardiner. They had been looking for a new location in Augusta, but they weren’t able to find a suitable space and that’s when they opted to move to Gardiner. Through the incentive program, the Emerys were able to set up the store how they liked and invest in new coolers. At that point, they closed the shop they had in Monmouth, and they continue to operate the shop in Newport.

Now they are looking to make more changes to their Gardiner space. The Emerys are working on putting in a “meat cave,” a walk-in cooler where customers can select cuts of meat themselves. It’s based on the beer cave concept.

Jessica Peavey, the Emerys’ daughter, said the cooler is ready to go, but it hasn’t been hooked up yet.

“Our refrigeration guy had a couple of last-minute jobs,” Peavey said, “so we’re trying to be patient.”

Emery, who will turn 60 in the coming year, is looking ahead even farther than this next project.

“We have to keep pushing forward,” Emery said. “We believe in shopping local and we believe in community.”

When he and his wife are ready to retire, he said Peavey will take over. She’s already learning the business and the farms that supply them with their grass-fed beef.

“I would like it to be something I continue for many, many years,” Peavey said at the end of December. “It’s my dad’s legacy, and I want to see to it continue.”

Jessica Lowell — 621-5632

[email protected]

Twitter: @JLowellKJ

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