The folks who pay the bills in Rim Country got a chance to celebrate, as more than 700 people gathered for the unveiling of the Best of the Rim winners for everything from making margaritas to grooming dogs.

They filled the Mazatzal Hotel & Casino ballroom to overflowing. The businesses whose sales taxes pay for most town services had time to hobnob, cheer one another on and give their employees a morale boost.

Some 3,800 people cast 280,000 votes in every imaginable category in an annual ritual that keeps growing.

Roundup General Manager Gary Tackett read through the five top vote getters in each category and then announced the winners, as people at their tables gossiped, cheered and sometimes groaned. Often, the cheers swept through the room as popular winners threaded through the closely packed tables to pick up their awards.

Even competing business owners more often than not congratulated one another, bonded by the rigors of surviving in a world of ceaseless change, fickle consumers, economic cycles and rural challenges. They compared notes, caught up on juicy gossip and built a sense of teamwork with fellow employees. This year for the first time, businesses could reserve tables in advance and used the event to celebrate the year’s success with the workers who made it possible.

The long list of categories gave everyone a chance to shine, with recognition for best carwash, cellphone service, Payson town councilor, locksmith, medical lab, meat retailer, doctor, pharmacy, school, wings, salesperson, veterinarian — you name it.

Payson gets about 60% of its general fund revenue from the sales tax. That means Payson couldn’t afford a fire department, police department or other services unless those businesses succeed — a tall challenge in a rural town hard hit by the recession a decade ago — and slow to recover.

So the evening felt like a celebration among survivors, the people whose risk-taking, shrewd decisions, customer service and stubborn persistence make the whole community work.

And it certainly doesn’t hurt for the rest of us to know where to get a good margarita while we’re waiting for the pooch to get clipped.

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