Cooks, cops and chiropractors.
Doctors and dentists.
Antique shops and auto mechanics.
Hair dressers and dog groomers.
Bartenders, bistros and bankers.
Everybody who’s anybody or sells anything to everybody was there, fidgeting in their seats.
They presented their free drink tickets, gossiped, bet on favorites, toothpicked those itty bitty little hot dogs and let the free broccoli sit — waiting for the tuxedoed host to set the festivities in motion.
But mostly, the 350 business folks gathered at the Mazatzal Hotel & Casino for the annual “Best of Rim Country” bash hosted by the Payson Roundup chatted happily with their fellow survivors — the small business owners who have somehow all staggered through another year in the worst economic downturn in memory.
They also came hoping to win the bragging rights that come with finishing first in a poll of Roundup readers asked to name their favorite, well, for just about everything.
Roundup Advertising Director Bobby Davis did his best to turn the event into Rim Country’s version of a retail Academy Awards, handing out plaques as the projector scrolled through the nominees and the winners. Many winners use the seal of approval from the mass survey of Roundup readers in their promotional activities all year round.
However, beneath the friendly competition, the almost fatalistic camaraderie of the lifeboat on a wide sea pervaded this year’s event.
John Naughton, Roundup publisher, kicked off the event. “This is our second annual event and it is good to see so many diverse business people in one room talking, networking and generally just having a good time. This is exactly what this event is designed to accomplish and it certainly looks like we’ve met our goal. So, applaud one another, slap each other and the back and have a good time.”
Speaker Kevin Dick, who also won top honors as “best financial advisor,” served as the speaker, offering upbeat predictions for the coming year.
Sales tax figures collected by the town suggest that sales tax revenue has started to rise again — especially in the tourist sector. He offered a host of statistics suggesting the economy will mend in the next two years, including the long-suffering housing sector.
His upbeat account fed the palpable sense of optimism that Rim Country will make a comeback — starting just about now.
Every business owner in the place has in the past two years juggled, scrambled, improvised and cut costs to survive the seemingly interminable downturn, hoarding their cash, petting their customers and subsisting on hope and guts.
The Monday night event offered a rare chance to celebrate that whole ‘tough get going’ ethic, which runs through Rim Country history back to the first roundup.
Plus, hey, hard to find any parties with free drinks these days.
The event featured some friendly rivalries — like the faceoff between the Buffalo Bar and Grill and Macky’s Grill. They slugged it out all night. Macky’s got the “best lunch spot,” “best burger” and “best sandwich” (the Cowboy Melt).
The Buffalo got the “best bar and tavern,” and “best bartender” — the irrepressibly cheerful Sal Mercado — with his freakish ability to remember both first names and favorite drinks.
The Buffalo also won the coveted “best place to meet singles,” oddly enough beating out the second-place finisher — “churches.”
On the other hand, Fargo’s ranked as the favorite dinner spot, the Beeline Café the best breakfast spot and the Casino had the best salad, fish fry and the most popular server — the ever-cheerful Alisa Gordon.
Some of the rivalries made you smile: Payson councilors Ed Blair and Su Connell shared a table. Between the two of them, they attend every event in town and work for most of the charitable organizations.
Blair, a former minster, has a disposition that makes Mary Poppins sound like a depressing whiner. But for the second year running, the relentlessly cheerful Connell once more beat him out for “favorite councilor.” Curse you, Red Baron.
Some of the rivalries made you twitch. Police Chief Don Engler and former second-in-command Donny Garvin were both nominated along with Officer Tony McDaniel for “favorite law enforcement officer.” Garvin has won in years past. This year, Engler got the most votes — with Garvin coming in second.
The “best firefighter” category also had a few interesting overtones. When the dust cleared on the voting, Roundup readers named Payson’s Toby Waugh as their favorite firefighter, followed by Hellsgate Chief Gary Hatch — with Hunter Scott coming in third.
But mostly, the night offered the survivors a chance to celebrate.
As Naughton told the crowd, “You are all winners, you are all the ‘Best of Rim Country’ for just keeping your doors open during these trying past few years.