BRATTLEBORO — Service to the community was the unifying theme in the stories of the three people honored by the Brattleboro Area Chamber of Commerce at its annual awards gathering on June 1 on the porch of the recently opened Bar 580 on Canal Street.
Being named Member of the Year was a bittersweet honor for Mary Giamartino, who operated the last locally owned pharmacy in town until its closing in February, a victim of changing economics.
For Tito Garza, getting the Entrepreneur of the Year award was the culmination of a long journey that took him from selling tacos out of a cooler by the Creamery Bridge to running two - soon to be three - restaurants and a catering business based in town.
And for the recently retired Dan Yates, receiving the Person of the Year award was a thank-you for the many years of service as president and CEO of Brattleboro Savings & Loan, the last community-owned bank in town.
All three were lauded for how much they have given to Brattleboro through their respective businesses.
Honoring the person behind the counter
Chamber Executive Director Greg Lesch described Mary Giamartino as someone who “was always about community and helping others.” She and her late husband Frank operated Hotel Pharmacy on Elliot Street for four decades, which Lesch said served the public in a way that no chain pharmacy could.
And while the award is usually given to a business or organization and not an individual, Lesch said that “as we all know, people are what make a business special and, in this case, it is impossible to separate the business from the entity we're celebrating.”
“The Chamber would be remiss if we failed to acknowledge the many contributions and the untimely closure of this downtown Brattleboro institution,” he said.
Lesch said “personal consultations, after-hours access during personal or family crises, and friendly support through challenging health care treatments and medications” were all hallmarks of Hotel Pharmacy's way of doing business.
Giamartino said that she was most proud of “giving my patients the best care that I could.”
“It was my pleasure to be welcomed into this community and raise our sons here,” she said. “And my co-workers were the best.”
Following his taco dreams
A native Texan, Tito Garza came to Brattleboro struggling with addiction and finding help here to recover. In 2015, as he was working at Supreme Fitness, where he met his future wife, he dreamed of operating a food truck.
Starting with a cooler full of tacos at Creamery Bridge, Garza slowly built up his business. Tito's Taqueria graduated to a hot dog cart, then to a food truck, and then to a pair of restaurants - one on Putney Road and the other in Greenfield, Massachusetts.
When a third restaurant opens in Keene, New Hampshire, Tito's will have 90 part- and full-time employees on the payroll.
In her introduction, Chamber board member Connie Burton said Garza exemplifies “the qualities of a true entrepreneur,” investing in the community “against great odds and personal sacrifice.”
According to Burton, Garza said that “I never would have had the success had I not embraced the discomfort and been vulnerable and just taken the chance.”
In accepting the honor, Garza said it took a lot of support from his family, as well as a community willing to embrace “weird, cool, and unique things.”
“Today, I have the life of my dreams,” Garza said. “I've got a beautiful family. I get appreciation when I walk into the restaurant and people value me. I get to be a part of people's growth and they get to be part of my growth. I'm super grateful.”
Not about the money
Dan Yates started out in the banking business in Connecticut, but he and his wife were looking for a change when a job opening came up in Brattleboro with Merchants Bank (now Community Bank). Yates grabbed the job and headed to Vermont.
After a stint in the Northeast Kingdom helping turn around the fortunes of a troubled local bank, he returned to town in 2005 to take a position at Brattleboro Savings & Loan. Two years later, Yates became its president and CEO.
Among his proudest accomplishments was getting Certified B Corporation status for BS&L, codifying the bank's mission of putting people and the planet ahead of profit.
When the Brooks House was gutted by fire in 2011, BS&L stepped up to help get funding to rebuild the downtown landmark.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, the bank's staff worked long hours in March 2020 to help local businesses secure more than $40 million in loans from the federal Paycheck Protection Program (PPP).
These, and other initiatives and projects, were all part of what Lesch said was Yates' primary philosophy of “being able to help people” and “always asking 'How do we better our communities?'”
“I'm incredibly humbled by this award,” Yates said, adding that he loves Brattleboro and local communities. ”It's got its warts, but it's a magical place. Other than marrying my wife, the best decision I made was to move to Brattleboro and then come back to Brattleboro because there's no place else on earth like it.”
The Chamber also recognized several local businesses that celebrated milestone anniversaries this year.
They included Vermont Hempicurean (five years), Fire Arts Vermont (10 years), Acrecona (35 years), ServPro of Windham and Windsor Counties (45 years), and Hilltop Montessori School (50 years).