The Park Rapids Lakes Area Chamber of Commerce handed out awards of distinction at its Sept. 22 annual meeting.

This year’s Shining Star Award went to Stacked High Deli for the business’ leadership and commitment to the community.

Co-owners Al and Zelda Kurth were recognized for being proactive with the COVID-19 pandemic, as they were among the first to do curbside delivery. The deli also serves meals to the senior center.

“We’re very, very happy and proud to be a part of what is a very budding and outgoing community,” said Al Kurth. “I know things will go back to normal after COVID. For now, we’ve proven as a community we can make it through as it is.”

The 2020 Tourism Award was given to Andrew Schauer of R & R Rental. Not only do they offer snowmobiles and ATV rentals, but they also went above and beyond for bars and restaurants during COVID-19 by special ordering and installing tents for outdoor dining.

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The 2020 Tourism Award was given to Andrew Schauer of R & R Rental.
The 2020 Tourism Award was given to Andrew Schauer of R & R Rental.Shannon Geisen/Enterprise

In honor of their dedication to workforce innovation plus community and business leadership, Hugo’s was nominated for the Business Excellence Award. A large employer in Park Rapids, the family-owned chain of stores dates back to 1939. Headquartered in Grand Forks, it expanded to Park Rapids in 2012.

New this year, the Chamber awarded a Heartland Lakes Community Project Award, recognizing an outstanding project that helps the greater community prosper and grow. The new downtown mural received this honor. Accepting the award were Ray Carlson, owner of Aunt Belle’s Confectionary, and LuAnn Hurd-Lof, who spearheaded the effort.

Kathy Henry, a lending officer at Citizens National Bank, was honored with the Chair’s Exceptional Individual Award in appreciation for her service to the region. Chamber board chair Molly Luther selected Henry “because she lives and breathes community every year. Kathy takes her time, energy and intellect to a long list of organizations. During this difficult year, she has even outdone herself.” Henry assisted many local businesses secure CARES Act finding, revolving loan funds and personal protective equipment loans.

The Heartland Lakes Legacy Award, another new distinction, was presented to Kathy Schmidt. The honor highlights a Chamber member with significant, lifelong contributions.

With 48 years of entrepreneurial experience, Schmidt owns Dorset General Store and LaPasta. The 1967 graduate of Park Rapids Area High School previously owned Dairy Queen, the Red Lantern restaurant, Pots and Pantry, and Matchbox Clothing.

Sue Tomte received the Chamber Ambassador of the Year Award for her commitment to the program, along with her efforts to fundraise for the Fourth of July fireworks.

This year, visitors largely came from Fargo, Park Rapids, Grand Forks, Detroit Lakes and Bemidji.

“They were traveling shorter distances and trying to find a place to take in some activities and be safe,” reported Chamber President/CEO Butch De La Hunt.

“Close-to-home travel was definitely the rule of order,” agreed David Bergman, northwest partner relations director for Explore Minnesota and guest speaker at the Chamber event.

In a survey of businesses, 47 percent of respondents said a larger than normal share of guests were from Minnesota. Compared to 2019, 51 percent said revenue was down and traffic decreased. Roughly one-third of respondents were experiencing higher demand and business activity. For example, Bergman said resorts and campgrounds fared well.

Tourism is experiencing tough, but interesting times, Bergman said, pointing to a study that found the Minnesota tourism industry had $5 billion in losses from mid-March through August.

“Greater Minnesota reported stronger tourism business than the metro region,” he said. “Both the pandemic and social unrest have been very difficult on the metro area. Park Rapids, on the other hand, has been well-positioned with its outdoors activities, including golf, camping, resorts, the scenic byway.”

Explore Minnesota offers several marketing and crisis grant programs.