Expo Highlights Businesses

ST. MARYS — Approximately 20 local businesses took part in the first-ever business expo on Saturday, sponsored by a fledgling business organization in St. Marys.

The St. Marys Community Partnership took over the Union Hall on South Street for the St. Marys Business Expo. The event, which ran from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., served as a way to pair local businesses with residents throughout the community.

“I think it’s going well,” said Jeremy Holtzapple president of the St. Marys Community Partnership. “Our main goal is just to show everyone what there is in St. Marys. There are a lot of small businesses that people may not know are here. We’re here to help promote the businesses and maybe get the businesses here to network and promote the town in general.”

Exhibitors included Happy Home Bedding and Furniture, Advanced Revenue Solutions, Fowler’s TV, The Peoples Bank, Cleanall Services and RJ Burke Insurance. Holtzapple said it’s vital for small businesses to band together to help each other succeed.

“A lot of smaller businesses may not have the resources to do the big advertising, so when you are able to work with others, you can promote each other,” Holtzapple said. “It really helps out.”

The group, which formed late last year, is starting to take shape. Holtzapple said the partnership also has a few events lined up for the coming months.

“It’s going great, we’re getting quite a few new members and we’ve got a lot of events coming up,” Holtzapple said. “We’re doing the Bunny Trail coming up on April 7 and then we’re hoping to do some movies in the park in June, either in Memorial Park or the new High Street Park.”

As visitors filed into the event, Holtzapple said he heard a lot of positive comments.

“They are really excited about it,” Holtzapple said. “To my knowledge there hasn’t been an expo like this. They come in and see the businesses .... People seem excited about it and I know the business owners are.”

With 18 exhibitors, Holtzapple said he hopes to add to the number next year.

“We do plan to make it an annual event,” he said. “Hopefully it will maybe grow each year.”

Chris Wibbenmeyer, of Happy Home Bedding and Furniture, extolled the benefits of the expo.

“I think it’s great,” Wibbenmeyer said. “There are some organizations, like the chamber, which have always been great, but to have a group focused just on businesses to work with each other on promoting ideas, I think it makes for a stronger community.”

Wibbenmeyer also said he viewed the event as a way to spread the word about the services at his business.

“For us, it’s just reaching out to the community to let them know what we have,” he said. “We’re still a  newer business so there’s still people who don’t know we exist. So this is an opportunity to be in a place with other businesses and showcase what we have to offer.”

The firm offers new and used furniture for sale as well as U-Haul rentals.

Like Wibbenmeyer, Debra Howell, CEO of Advanced Revenue Solutions, wanted to spread the word about her business.

“It’s billing and coding services for physicians’ offices and health care facilities,” Howell said. “I’m here because they are trying to promote businesses in the St. Marys area and seeing how I am a business, I thought I’d come here.”

St. Marys Area Chamber of Commerce Director Kelly Kill appeared at the event to spread the word about how the chamber can help local business owners as well as let the public know what the entity does for the community. She also touted the importance of small businesses working together.

“I think this is a great event,” Kill said. “Your larger businesses, they do get an opportunity to get together and network and talk about various things and a lot of times they are a member of an even larger regional, state or national group. The smaller businesses don’t have that opportunity as often, but I think this is a way for them to showcase to the public that they are here and what they have to offer.”

One area Kill said she plans to explore in the future are home-based businesses. By becoming chamber members, Kill said those businesses can take advantage of the services provided by the group.

“I think it would be an excellent step — we are seeing more and more of the home-based businesses and I think it’s something in the future we will be taking an interest in,” Kill said.

“We can offer them exposure. As part of the chamber, they have a presence on our web page that people go to in order to check for businesses and they also would be in any of the information we publish for the public. The other thing is they would have an opportunity to be a part of chamber events and the referrals.”

Karen Williams, of St. Marys, stopped by the event to see what the local businesses had to offer. The lifelong resident said she was amazed that there were some businesses in town that she didn’t know were open.

“I saw it on Facebook and thought  it was a good way to support St. Marys and I am finding things that I didn’t even know existed in St. Marys,” she told The Evening Leader. “I think it’s great — the more people we can get in here to let them see what St. Marys has to offer so that it grows.”

Williams also encouraged residents to support locally owned businesses by frequenting the establishments. She also revealed plans to attend next year’s expo but as an exhibitor.

“I hope they do it next year and I hope they get more businesses,” Williams said, noting she sells handmade purses out of her home and at the farmers’ market. “I have a home-based business and I am thinking maybe I should be here. I could have had one of these tables.”