By HOWARD BALABAN email@example.com
Medina Journal-Register — POINT BREEZE - Graduates of the Orleans County Economic Development Agency’s Microenterprise Assistance Program (MAP) gathered at the Marine Park at Point Breeze on Saturday for their first-ever class reunion.
MAP Coordinator Diane Blanchard said about 350 business owners have graduated from the program since its inception in 1999. Almost all of those who have taken the class were either fledgling business owners or started their business soon after the course’s completion, Blanchard said.
MAP graduates earn a certificate that helps them qualify for a revolving loan, and Blanchard said that fund has been put to good use as many of the start-up businesses have become staples of different Orleans County communities.
Some MAP graduates from Medina who enjoyed the afternoon were Bobbi Huwyler and Brenda Kephart. Both completed the program in 2011. Huwyler, who owns the East Center Street Stop and Shop, recalled how she worked tirelessly for three months between graduation and Medina’s annual Wine About Winter event to make sure she could participate in the fun.
Huwyler said she used to work for Owen Toale, who owned the building before her. She said that after he closed it she decided the east side of Medina needed something to cater to residents’ needs.
“Without Jubilee, which left years ago, that side of town was left with nothing,” she said.
Today, Huwyler said her shop is “truly a convenience store” as she can get smaller shipments than larger stores and she can be a bit more selective. The only downside to being her own boss, though, is the that the hours are tough.
“Anyone who has their own business works long hours, though, so I’m very happy with what I’ve got,” said Huwyler.
Kephart said that by the end of this year or the beginning of next year, she would like to start her business and base it out of the Stop and Shop. Her idea is to create B & B BBQ, which will serve southern-style barbecue. She said Baby Ribs, whose owner, Eula Collins, is also a MAP graduate, has barbecue with a Jamaican flare.
Once it has been established, Kephart said she envisioned a bluesy-type atmosphere at B & B BBQ.
Medina’s Kustom Kreations also has a MAP graduate as its owner in Kevin Gursslin. He and his wife, Patty, previously had separate businesses - New York Sportswear and Outdoor Adventures - before eventually merging businesses (and getting married).
Gursslin, MAP Class of 2002, said the program has been tremendously helpful since he started his business.
“I got a lot of the class, but also the follow-up,” he said. “The references they provide have been incredible.
“When the economy took a dip and we all took a hit, they put us in touch with people who helped us out,” he added.
Those people allowed Gursslin to stop worrying about keeping the business afloat and instead just maintain it through sound business practices and decisions.
Being on Main Street in Medina, he added, has been a major plus as the village’s downtown has seen a bit of a renaissance in the past few years. “It’s great to be a part of,” he said.
Huwyler, Kephart, and Gursslin all mentioned how their MAP experience allowed them to correctly craft a business plan.
Another Medina-based business, My Cowboy Mini-Golf, was also represented on Saturday with its owner Mike Lyons.
Lyons started his business with an ice cream bike and then a cart, and most recently he put together the traveling mini-golf course. He said the program helped him streamline his business plan, which he started before taking the course. As a 2011 course graduate, he said he had previously only interacted with classmates, but the reunion allowed him to network with other business owners and gave others the chance to do the same.
MAP’s participants used the Best Center at Genesee Community College, where Ray Chaya is the director. He said the success of the program has him hopeful that a similar thing will take off in Batavia.
“The time is right for small businesses,” Chaya said. “They’re the backbone of the country.”