May 09, 2012 - "It was like being at the Oscars."
Downtown Oxford’s wildly popular 24th Street Sports Tavern won the Outstanding Main Street Business of the Year Award from Oakland County. Pictured with the plaque is owner Viktor Paljusaj (center) surrounded by his hard-working staff. Photo by CJC. (click for larger version)
That's how Maria Martin, administrative assistant for the Oxford Downtown Development Authority (DDA), described attending the Main Street Oakland County Awards ceremony held Friday evening at Glen Oaks Golf Club in Farmington Hills.
The DDA, along with two local businesses and Oxford Community Schools, won a grand total of five awards.
"It was certainly Oxford's night," Martin said. "Every time they announced an award, it was us, over and over again. It was spectacular."
The DDA won the coveted Main Street Spirit Award.
"The Spirit Award is like the ultimate award," Martin explained. "It's like the 'movie of the year' at the Oscars, so to speak . . . They give it to the community that's really shown a lot of growth, development, enthusiasm – those kinds of things."
"Oxford is just a damn good town that's why we won the Spirit Award," she continued. "We have a fabulous community that is getting more and more involved in our downtown. Our retailers are phenomenal. Everybody cares and everybody's really focused on the same thing – developing Oxford to become an economic hub."
Downtown's 24th Street Sports Tavern (13 S. Washington St.) won the Outstanding Main Street Business of the Year Award for its commitment to and involvement in the community such as donating $10,000 toward the new synthetic blue turf field at the high school's football stadium and contributing to local sports programs like the Oxford Jr. Wildcats.
"Their contributions to the community have just been beyond expectation," Martin said.
The award also recognized the 24th Street's owner, Viktor Paljusaj, for all the hard work, time and money he's invested to create a lively, family-friendly gathering place in heart of the downtown area.
"The way he transformed (the former) Rob's Place (bar) into the 24th Street, we felt was worth being recognized," Martin said. "One of the key points (as to) why he won was his investment back into the community. His investment (in renovating the bar) exceeded $50,000."
Paljusaj was extremely grateful for the award.
"It signifies that we're doing something right and the community is definitely behind us," he said. "It's pretty much a huge award for both Oxford and the 24th Street Tavern. We're working hand-in-hand to put Oxford on the map as a great downtown . . . It's been four years and quite an unbelievable run when you look back at (from) when you first interviewed me (to now). It's just very humbling."
"Hopefully, this is just the beginning of many more awards to celebrate in Oxford," noted Paljusaj, adding the 24th Street will celebrate its award by hosting a party on Tuesday, June 5 beginning at 3 p.m. Watch for details.
From his customers and family (particularly his dad Rock and brother Lindon) to his staff and suppliers, Paljusaj wanted to thank everyone involved with the tavern's success.
"It's a whole team effort," he said. "My job is to bring people in and their job is to keep them here."
Paljusaj believes the exterior renovation of his establishment, which earned him a village beautification award in 2010, helped spur other downtown property owners and merchants to do the same.
"I think we set a standard four years ago in this town and we're going to keep the downtown area looking good," he said. "The other storefronts are kind of getting it now that you must invest in your business to prosper."
When asked why he donates so much to various community causes, particularly youth sports, Paljusaj indicated it's his way of thanking all the folks who stood by him from the very beginning and continue to do so.
"They come here and support you every day. Those are the people that make this business run," he said. "When my back was against the wall in 2008-09, these people stepped up to the plate and supported me. I don't forget. Most people have a short-term memory. I don't. These people came in and supported me before the remodeling, before the name change . . . They've been good to me and I will give back."
Genisys Credit Union and the DDA won the Outstanding Private/Public Partnership Award. Over the years, the financial institution has sponsored a multitude of DDA events.
"What probably sets them apart from most sponsors is it's not just a cash contribution – they're actually involved with the DDA," Martin explained. "They attend all the events. They're part of them. They contribute in terms of volunteer man-hours."
"And it's not just with the DDA," Martin added. "(Genisys) also partners with the Chamber (of Commerce) and other various organizations in town."
Kevin Wisely, who manages the credit union's Oxford branch at 168 S. Washington St., explained that volunteering and community involvement are just "part of our corporate DNA."
"It's something that we always try to do – get groups working together," he said. "In this day and age, when everyone's doing more with less, if you can get groups to cooperate, it helps everyone get more done. It helps the community. It helps our organization. It helps our members."
Wisely noted that at last year's Celebrate Oxford event, Genisys Credit Union had about 12 employees serving as volunteers for the DDA.
"We don't even have 12 employees at our (branch) office," he said, noting it's not uncommon for Genisys employees to volunteer in communities in which they don't either work or live. "It's just something we really enjoy doing."
Wisely himself spent about three years serving on the DDA Board of Directors. After four years, including a term as president, Wisley continues to serve on the Oxford Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors.
"We're proud to give back," he said. "It's not just about (donating) money because that doesn't really accomplish the mission a lot of times. But if you get people working together and show (you're) willing to roll up (your) sleeves, jump in and help, it's better for everyone and it gets the job done."
The DDA's Scarecrow Festival won the Outstanding Special Event Award.
After suffering from a lack of participation and attendance for a number of years, the Scarecrow Festival was overhauled and revitalized, making quite the comeback last year as it experienced a record number of vendors and visitors.
Oxford Community Schools' administration building, located at 10 N. Washington St., won the Outstanding Adaptive Use of a Building Award.
"One of the key reasons they won was (because) when they renovated that building, they tried to use as much of the original materials as possible (in order) to preserve the historical elements of the building," Martin said.
Awards aside, Martin was pleased with the level of enthusiasm demonstrated by the pro-downtown contingent Friday evening.
"We had a very, very good representation of Oxford at the event," she said. "There were over 50 people there supporting Oxford including various DDA board members and volunteers."
CJ Carnacchio is editor for The Oxford Leader. He lives in the Village of Oxford with his wife Connie and daughter Larissa. When he's not busy working on the newspaper, he enjoys cigars/pipes, Martinis/Scotch, hunting and fishing.