Awards cite the best of the valley

May Balsama has an interesting take on why the Best of the Souhegan Region awards are so important to businesses in the nine towns involved in the voting: the uniqueness of those towns and the fact that they are not part of Manchester, nor part of Nashua.

“The readers’ choice awards were created to identify and to give some branding to the Souhegan Valley area,” the executive director of the Souhegan Valley Chamber of Commerce said in a telephone interview Monday. “So many times our towns are folded, in terms of perception, into part of Nashua, part of Manchester, and we are neither. We are unique communities with many wonderful businesses.”

Readers of the Cabinet Press papers – The Cabinet, the Bedford Journal, the Merrimack Journal, and the Hollis Brookline Journal – certainly had no problem finding businesses for which to vote in this year’s contest, and hundreds of them took the time, and the effort to cast ballots. This year, readers selected 120 businesses as The Best of the Souhegan Region.

As Amy Wheeler, president of the Chamber, pointed out, voting for one’s favorite restaurant or health club or auto repair shop takes thought.

Readers of the four papers, Wheeler said in a column that appears in The Best of the Souhegan Region supplement included with this week’s issues, “have taken the time to honor the people who provide the business services to our communities.”

“This was not done by multiple choice,” Wheeler wrote. “They took the time and effor tto write in specific names because they appreciate the excellent service and products provided.”

That’s how Brian Woodbury, co-manager of the Toadstool Bookshop in Milford sees it, too. Toadstool was the only winner in the “Books” category. In most categories, two businesses won.

“It’s great to have the recognition,” Woodbury said. “We work very hard, we’re obviously very people- and community-oriented and people seem to appreciate that. It’s our stock and trade and it’s what we do every day. It’s nice that we’re recognized for that.”

Dr. Joseph Raczek, of Milford, one of two winners as Best Optometrist along with Nashua Eye Associates, called his award “a cool thing to have” and said he hears comments about winning from other business people, particularly when he attends Rotary meetings.

But while thanking his patients for voting for his practice, he declined to take all of the credit.

“I want to thank my staff for being such a good staff,” he said. “They deserve the credit, too.”

Rick Holder, owner of the Hampshire Hills Sports and Fitness Club in Milford, would agree. His club won in several categories, including Fitness Facility, Day Spa, Hair Salon, Lunch Restaurant, and Massage, so he sees the importance of the annual voting.

“As Lee Iococca said, ‘You can lead, follow or get out of the way’,” Holder said in an e-mail. “At Hampshire Hills, we will lead. That is why winning is important to us. We hope we get the chance to win every year. Our members are quite proud of the accolades.”

So, apparently are the clients of Gail Maloney, one of the winners in the Photography category along with C1M Photography of Milford.

“I feel great about winning,” she said in an email, and “some folks do mention that my winning is important to them.”

Voting for the Best of the Souhegan Region, which takes place in July, began five years ago when the Chamber and The Cabinet Press developed the concept.

“We thought this was a great way to give some recognition to businesses in the area,” Balsama, the Chamber executive director said. “There are some great little businesses here, and some great big businesses, too.”