Abe’s Auto Center

Nomination from Elias Brenes

This small business is a mechanic shop that handles all repairs on domestic and foreign cars and trucks. Services include brakes, transmissions rebuild and replace, engines, tires, oil changes, front end suspensions, rear suspensions, heating and air conditioner services, and any other mechanical work.

They have established new policies when picking up and dropping off a vehicle due to Covid. They are constantly disinfecting common areas and masked at all times.

I’m thankful this honest mechanic shop is still around! They deserve to be recognized for coming this far after living through such a tough time.

Arch Angels NJ

Nomination from Ivan Reynolds

When the pandemic hit I watched dozens of businesses shut down. Many people I knew in the beauty industry were out of jobs and looking for alternative sources of revenue. Understandably, most people were scared and feeling concerned about what they would do next. At first Migdalia was too, but then I saw a spark in her. She began reaching out to folks in the community about how she could help. She used to be a teacher, and as the parent of a young child, immediately thought about how schools were impacted.

Knowing that others may not have the same resources, she volunteered to help teachers transition to online learning. Never allowing for an idle moment, she also began strategizing for her own business. She thought about the people who she had spoken with and how hard things were without steady jobs. She started developing an online course so that she could help others learn PMU techniques.

At the time, funding for small businesses was still hard to attain, so I watched her spend her own money to make adjustments to her business so that she could reopen safely when it was time. The resilience and determination she has had is inspiring.

Migdalia has been a friend for many years. She is the person I have trusted with any cosmetic work I have done because she truly cares that each person is happy with the result. I couldn’t think of anyone better for this recognition.

Union County Small Business Community Champion’s Story

Permanent makeup has always been a lucrative industry but requires a great deal of expertise. People trust our highly trained technicians to make life changing enhancements. Some clients are suffering from hair loss, skin discoloration or any other number of conditions. When they enter our studio, they want the procedure to boost their confidence and help them get back to the look they love for themselves. Others are long time makeup wearers and are looking to simplify their morning routine. No matter the origin, each of our clients is deeply impacted by the services they receive from us. Many of whom become life-long friends after their procedure.

When the pandemic hit, we were forced to close our doors for some time. I didn’t know how long we would have to stay closed or if we could ever reopen. I volunteered in Rahway to help teachers transition to online learning, offering to teach as well if more teachers were needed as I have previous experience. As someone who routinely stays in touch with my community (especially online), I began connecting with other small business owners experiencing the same troubles. We began just by offering each other support and an opportunity to vent about our frustrations. The longer the pandemic went on, the more I saw fellow business owners have to shut their doors indefinitely. At that point, I knew I needed to do something to save my business and continue to make an impact on those seeking our services.

My experiences with past businesses taught me a great deal about how to market myself. I learned how to look at any situation, identify who my consumer was and develop a strategy to reach them. This time was no different. People often use unexpected time off to take care of personal errands. It was then that I decided to begin creating and teaching online courses. I knew that this would be a great way to help those impacted by the pandemic gain a new skin in a high successful industry. This would be a great way to support others in becoming entrepreneurs and make sure that they too had a source of income they could count on when regular jobs were hard to get.

Once it was safe to do so, I reopened my studio with heightened cleaning protocols of common spaces, as well as an adjusted operational structure to keep clients safe. We built in more time in between appointments. We kept non-essential staff working from home and coordinated staggered shifts for in person staff. Getting clients to return took trust. We needed to build a strong foundation of trust with each client to make sure they knew just how safe they would be with us. We made sure to make pricing more accessible since many had fallen on hard times. Each of these changes was delicately marketed, so that the community knew they had our support, but that they could also continue to be serviced by us.

Impact is key for me. I do this work because clients leave radiant, confident, and overjoyed that permanent makeup was a solution for them. My community is so important to me and really drives me to find solutions to any obstacle that I encounter.

Atelier Rosal

Nomination from Jacqueline Lombardo

Nick Rosal is an artist, a musician and the co-founder of Atelier Rosal. His artwork has been collected across the United States and is in corporate collections as well. He has done stints as the director of production for a major NYC art publisher, been a graphic designer, and spent time painting theater backdrops all while pursuing his fine art painting.

While running his business before & during the pandemic in Rahway- he remained instrumental in fostering the music scene downtown, by coordinating local musicians and bands to perform in the City’s parks, paseos and venues with the support of the Rahway Arts and Business Partnership.

Nick is an asset to the Rahway Arts community and his tireless efforts have helped in bringing fresh music and faces to the downtown business community.

Union County Small Business Community Champion’s Story

Atelier Rosal, a gallery and frame shop, moved to Rahway, NJ in the fall of 2017 from New York City. The business took advantage of the nearby train station and I hoped some of our loyal clients would be willing to take the train to this arts friendly city. The space would have art openings, art lectures, poetry readings and workshops as well as small, intimate music performances. I also had the opportunity to work with The Rahway Arts & Business Partnership (RABP) to collaborate on art events and program street music for The City of Rahway. That also led to my working with other venues in need of entertainment and music.

That all stopped in March of 2020.

After months of being locked down we realized we needed to make changes to our business model as the world slowly was awakened. My wife and business partner, Heidi, added more “commercial” wares for the gallery to sell like candles, gift cards, olive wood platters and bowls to contrast the one of a kind ceramics and jewelry from independent artists we showcased. These were also available online through our website. To keep our custom framing clients engaged, we zoomed, Face-timed, and Video chatted through FB Message to design framing for client artworks. Designing in the frame shop was by appointment. Browsers needed to wear masks and hand sanitizer was available for (the very few) customers that walked in. But, we were proactive too. We went to our commercial accounts and did work on site. Everything from stretching canvases to curbside pickup and delivery of custom framing for our clients. We did what was required to maintain our clientele and reworked our retail space to generate new ones.

Meanwhile, The City of Rahway had installed pavilions in certain areas of the downtown area to help restaurants with their clientele in the form of outdoor seating and dining. What was missing was the live music I had programmed with The RABP. The booked musicians were streaming their performances, but it didn’t do what it was designed to do; bring people to Downtown Rahway to learn more about the small business and restaurants tucked away on side streets. As mandates relaxed and crowds were allowed to gather, albeit six feet apart, with masks and with a maximum limit on outdoor spaces, a few of the booked musicians would perform on the street. However, it was the end of the summer music series season.

Knowing that the RABP was gracious enough to fulfill the obligations of paying the artists to perform, despite the COVID-19 circumstances that forced musicians to stream and that the summer music series didn’t draw an audience to Downtown Rahway as designed, I was inspired to create an event that would do just that. So, I called the performers from the summer schedule, my soundman and the RABP and organized the “Culture Crawl Pop-Up Music Series 2020”: a five hour music event involving eight artists that have performed for the RABP in the past. The event was held at The Rahway Train Station Plaza on November 7th, 2020 with what seemed like September weather. It was a complete success as people set up chairs after visiting local restaurants for lunch/dinner or getting their take out.

Having access to the Train Station Plaza gave me the idea to do this again as well as other events. Working with The City of Rahway, I repeated the five hour music event on April 17th 2021 as “Rahway Musicfest for Rahway Restaurants 2021” to celebrate the coming of the warmer months and (albeit controlled) gathering of people outdoors. We found a receptive audience and a crowd of people excited to see live music again. I’m hoping to do this again in the fall.

The want for normalcy, entertainment and engaged activities was palpable. Not knowing if the pandemic would ease or make a turn for the worse, I committed to creating more arts and music events to be held outdoors. That being said, I brought three pop-up shows from The Downtown Bohemian Festival (DBF is a three day art festival showcasing local artist, poets, film, music etc held at Hamilton Stage and The Fazioli Room) to public spaces in Rahway. “DBF Pop-Up Poetry and Jazz”s outdoor performance debuted in May at the Rahway Train Station Plaza. The day featured open mic spoken word and featured poets while a jazz band “mashed” with them, creating a day of improvisational music and spoken word. Also on display were local artists displaying their artwork, ceramics and other unique wares. This event will be repeated on September 4th at 4pm. The second installment of the three pop-up shows was held in the parking lot of The Gallery Space. That program consisted of spoken word and short films by NJ directors.

I wanted to bring not just music back to the community, but the visual arts, film festivals, and the spoken word.

Another genre of music people were yearning for was Jazz. I work with Watt Hotel to bring jazz to their lounge. Because of travel restrictions in 2020, they had cancelled the program (only to recently restart it as of this writing) due to limited occupancy in their hotel. I reached out to the city to have jazz at The Train Station Plaza for two reasons: 1) To have Rahway as a music mecca in August as people come for the mayor’s concert on Thursdays, the RABP’s Summer Music Series on Fridays at The Paseo (a nickname for an alley on Main St. across from Cherry St) and then Jazz on Saturdays! 2) The citizens of Rahway have grown to love the Jazz program at Watt. Without having a clue when it would start again, The City of Rahway and I gave it to them. An addendum to this concept is Watt has recently started its Jazz program again. I’m hoping there will be some crossover audiences from the Train Station Plaza to the lounge to help steady their business.

There was a need and a craving after the lockdown was lifted. People constantly asked me when music would start again, when will the art shows start, the open mic poetry? I pushed to get music back on the streets, art seen and poetry heard because I needed it too. But I also knew that the community, the business and the city would benefit from these events.

Lastly, and I hesitated to write this, but I have my wife’s blessings: all of this was happening while my wife and I were managing her health as she was diagnosed with breast cancer in May of 2020. She’s tough though. She survived because of all the support we’ve received through this as well. She is now a year away from diagnosis and at last check up, cancer free.

But as she and I went through difficult times with people supporting us, so will this community. Because, for the most part, we’ve come together to support each other.

Flynn’s Pub House

Nomination from Meg Servedio

Just Plain Dave’s and Meatballs and Brews were both hit hard by the pandemic but they combined the businesses and managed to keep all of their employees working to continue serving delicious food and great drinks to the community. I’m not much of a drinker but I’ve been eating at JPDs for years and was so happy that they kept cooking.

Union County Small Business Community Champion’s Story

I tend to be a very private person, but it’s not often that a small business owner gets the opportunity to express themselves in an open and honest way. So please bear with me as I talk about my experiences before, during, and currently, in dealing with this pandemic – because my story could easily be the same for many business owners.

Our story starts in 2017. That’s when my wife and I took ownership of the restaurant where we first met – Just Plain Dave’s. It wasn’t in the best condition and there were problems with it but it was our chance to live out our dream (really my dream). I’ve always been a big believer in the economic necessity of small businesses and the impact they can have on their local communities’ quality of life. After having spent ten years of my adult life working in finance, making wealthy people even wealthier, I grew to understand that my job produced nothing of real value. Even though I was “successful” – I felt empty.

Sure, we held fundraisers and made donations but it wasn’t done with a sense of purpose or responsibility. It was done for PR, or tax write offs, leading to larger profits. With that in mind – I came up with a few basic tenets for what our business would be about. I would provide my employees with a safe and inviting work environment. I would redistribute our revenue to other small businesses and charities as much as I could. I wanted to create something that would enrich the quality of life for those around me. Profits would always come after I made sure our core values were covered.

So, we purchased as much as we could from local vendors and suppliers. All of our produce is purchased from little bodegas, farmer’s markets, and locally owned delivery services. We didn’t have a lot of capital to start with but we had a strong support system and determination.

After years of struggles, moving to a smaller location, etc., we were finally hitting our stride. A couple months later – the world came to a halt.

As someone who has immunocompromised loved ones at home, this was a very scary time. We stopped inside dining a week before the mandates came out and I made the decision that we were going to ride this out for as long as we could without reducing anyone’s pay or hours. My staff had done nothing to deserve this and without them I wouldn’t still be doing what I do.

Unfortunately, due to the struggles we had experienced in the beginning, I was not going to be able to keep it up for long. Money was already tight before the shutdowns began.

We couldn’t afford to close, even temporarily, as we figured out what we were supposed to do. We quickly transitioned to takeout/delivery only and hoped for the best. The support from our customers was tremendous. They were willing to drive around in circles as they waited for their takeout orders (parking could be a little tough). Waited for over an hour for their deliveries. The patience and understanding was nothing short of incredible. Our community was now holding me together.

As the months passed by though, I came to the realization that we were not going to make it to the other side of this. I had donated the little bit I could (our stock of toilet paper, and gloves) to local foundations to use as needed. I had managed to keep everyone employed but I simply did not have any more options. The little bit of money I had managed to save was gone. It was one of the most depressing moments of my life. All the hard work and sacrifice of myself – but more importantly my wife and our families – was for naught. This was the beginning of July.

It was then that I heard a place nearby was getting ready to reopen but without a kitchen operation. I saw an opportunity and went to speak with the owner about the possibility of joining together. Strength in numbers so to speak. Thankfully he agreed! We opened together as Flynn’s Pub House in August of last year.

In November one of my cooks tested positive for Covid. Out of caution for myself, my wife, our staff, their loved ones, and our community – we made the decision to close temporarily as we got the rest of the staff tested and had the entire establishment cleaned and sanitized. I’d say it was a difficult decision but it really wasn’t – no amount of money is ever worth the health and wellbeing of an individual.

We withheld inside dining for a month after it was allowed to resume. Withheld bar seating for three weeks after it was allowed. I scheduled vaccine appointments for my staff. Our staff continues to wear masks inside to this day both for their, and the community’s, benefit. We are still purchasing from local vendors and no one had to lose their job to make that happen.

While companies like Amazon and Wal-Mart are being praised for offering $15 an hour now the reality is that they could, and should, have been doing that ten years ago. When AMEX promotes their “small business Saturday” they do it for their own benefit – not the local communities. If they really wanted to support the small businesses – they would waive their processing fees on that day. Or issue grants. Or literally anything of tangible assistance. Instead they mail out stickers and consider it a job well done.

This past year+ has been the hardest of my life. I know I’m not alone in that. It has been difficult for everyone. I know people that have lost loved ones, their home, their life’s savings and everything they have worked towards. My hope is as we continue to open things back up, there will be a renewed understanding of what it means to “support local”. That the patience and understanding from the beginning of the pandemic continues on. It’s become cliché for talking heads to say “small businesses are the backbone of our economy” – even though most of us were left exposed without a lifeline when this all began and continue to be to this day. I’d like to say I was smart, but truthfully I was just lucky. Lucky that I have a wife who supports and believes in me unconditionally. Lucky that I have a family who will be there when it feels like I have nothing else. Lucky that I found another small business owner willing to take a risk on me. Lucky that I have customers that were willing to deal with all of the changes and inconsistencies that come with being a first time business owner.

If this pandemic has taught me nothing else – it’s that together we, as a community, can overcome even the most horrific of obstacles if we’re honest and understanding with one another.

This recognition as a community champion isn’t really about me or the things I’ve done. It’s about the support my community, my employees, my family, and my wife, gave me when I needed it most.

Ghos Training

Nomination from Sharisse Leighten

This gym is top notch. From a client’s standpoint, Nasir is friendly, professional and hard working. During the pandemic, he made sure the gym was super clean, disinfected, and mask mandated! The members continued to “Go Hard” while in the midst of this very difficult time.

I applaud Nasir and The GHOS Training Facility for all the effort put into whipping this body into shape.

I actually lost 20 lbs during the pandemic and I have my God and this organization to thank!

Nomination from Stacey Johnson

We have socialized and heard stories from Nasir on how exercise and nutrition made him into the person that he is today. He is a key player on any team .He is always willing to share his life stories, prior to the pandemic, during the pandemic and post-pandemic. His skills and leadership qualities make him invaluable to current and former clients, like us. He has found success as a Leading Trainer in Union County, helping families. He is always looking to attract former clients back so that he can continue to support improving their quality of life.W e learned new exercises that we are keeping for the rest of our lives.

In addition to his professional qualifications, Nasir has personal qualities that make him well-suited for such a recognition. He naturally falls into any role. He’s not afraid to offer suggestions for his clients to explore .In his current role as a personal trainer, he is instrumental in a platform that has proven to be very fruitful. He is committed to progress and he strives for people to do the same. In short, Nasir, is a person with vision.
On a personal note, Nasir has become a close friend over the years. His fun and friendly personality are just the icing on the cake for his many qualifications. On Monday July 12, 2021 our 33 year old daughter was visiting us from out of state here in New Jersey (NJ) and had a stroke. Our reality is that our lives have changed. The comfort and kindness he has showed us during this critical time is something he will continue to do for other families in Union County.

Union County Small Business Community Champion’s Story

I made the decision to close my business weeks before the shutdown was mandated. Caring for my mom, the exposure to so many people was a concern. I converted the gym to virtual training. Gym members had the option to log into daily zoom streamed workouts.

I felt it was important to provide the members with a virtual option and send workouts for them to do on their own. Their progress is what matters to me. Many of them have come so far. There was no way I could allow this pandemic to get in their way.

When businesses were allowed to open back up members donated sanitary wipes and bleach to keep the facility clean. Members clean their equipment after use and I clean the gym after every class or personal training session.

Il Forno a Legna

Nomination from Anthony Deige Jr.

Il Forno A Legna tackled the challenges of the pandemic with both creativity and professionalism. They were one of the first restaurants to sacrifice their parking lot for outdoor dining. The success of this business model adaptation spread throughout the city as more and more restaurants made similar changes after seeing diners enjoying wood oven pizza outside throughout the seasons.

The creation of outdoor dining spaces revitalized the downtown. This change in business model was so popular, that with indoor restrictions now lifted, they still kept and upgraded the outdoor dining experience.

The Il Forno Food Truck was also on the move during the pandemic as they kept the community engaged by giving out pizza at City Park re-openings.

Union County Small Business Community Champion’s Story

COVID was nothing short of challenging for all businesses. As a small business we were faced with many difficulties but we overcame them by using the circumstances we were facing as an opportunity to RAISE THE BAR even more!!We had no choice; we didn’t want to be discouraged and we did not want to fail!! At Il Forno we used this as an opportunity to be supportive to our community and keep pressing on!! We let go of our employees to be sure to stay healthy. By keeping only family members as employees we were able to know that we were not contacting Covid.

This also meant we were doing all the work on our own! With minimal staff we were waking up earlier, preparing all our fresh Ingredients, cleaning up ourselves, and staying later to make sure everything was correct. We followed all of the guidelines which were mandated by the state and city. Even the simple things like masks, hand sanitizer, and 6 feet distance made running a restaurant more difficult.

We were pressed to think out-of-the-box. Little by little as rules were lifted and things got better we continued to stay positive, we continued to serve and we continued to bring smiles to all the faces of our customers. So much work goes into running a small business restaurant; COVID added the workload and stress! We have families of our own and we know how important health and safety are!

We are open every day because everyone needs to eat and we were there for our community and customers to feel safe whether they were picking up food or getting it delivered. We have always believed in giving back to our community and we did just that during the pandemic! We donated to CVS, Rahway Fire Department, DPW, Rahway Hospital, Rahway Police Department and more.

We donated 20 gift cards to 20 families during that time that were in need of help as well. Through the years since Il Forno A Legna has been open our customers have become like family.

It was a pleasure to be of service to everyone who came in to pick up food and whomever we were personally delivering food to during that difficult time.


Melao Café

Nomination from Anthony Deige Jr.

Melao Cafe & Creamery has been the pulse of the community throughout the pandemic. As businesses started shutting their doors; Melao’s coffee filled up portable containers that were sent off to local essential workers including the Rahway Department of Public Works and the Rahway Fire Department.

As the city of Rahway got creative with their outdoor recreational programming, Melao was one of the first restaurants to team up with them in a trial voucher program where residents who participated in the MT. Rahway Rock Wall event would receive a voucher to be used at Melao. The voucher business model was a huge success that went on to expand over multiple events including dozens of restaurants which all included Melao.

When Winter hit and social distancing was at an all-time high, Melao offered free outdoor coffee at the city’s Winter Wonderland holiday series to keep indoor crowds at a minimum during the holiday series. One thing that was certain, in such uncertain times, was that if you made the trip to downtown Rahway a great cup of coffee would be waiting for you.

Nomination from Brandon Givens

Melao has quickly become an important piece of the Rahway Community, since their grand opening.

Aside from great food and coffee once you step through the doors you feel all the positive energy. Just like hundreds of small businesses around the state once Covid hit they adapted to ensure survival.

I’m happy to see that they’ve been able to weather the storm, growing their business, and continuing to provide great service and quality!

Union County Small Business Community Champion’s Story

Melao is a gem here in Rahway. Only open for 2.5 years but let me tell you the love we’ve got in these past few years have been amazing. This pandemic really showed us how much the city and our patrons love us. Not only did we shut down for a full month but we also cut our hours down to fight the cut in sales. When we opened back up after that month of scare we decided to change our game plan with Mobile orders and cutting down our menu but also recreating menu items.

This helped grab attention of our audience during these hard times especially through all social media platforms.

Though many customers were very cautious about picking up food, we tackled the digital world in a way that not only got us back on track slowly but made our customer base feel more secure about eating out. It’s been a journey as we are finally getting back to a norm. Social media presence has been a great way to attract the public eye and we will continue to do so! Nonetheless we are very happy to still be open as I know many others were not fortunate enough to remain open during the pandemic.

We are here strong and here to stay! – Melao Family

Nancy’s Townhouse

Nomination from Anthony Deige Jr.

As the city of Rahway scrambled to offer outdoor seating areas for dining, Nancy’s Towne House happily gave back to the community by becoming the unofficial staging area for the City’s assembly of picnic tables and chairs.

After these items were assembled and deployed to their locations, Nancy’s Towne House contributed to the outdoor dining experience themselves by building their own creative outdoor dining space, complete with tents and shrubbery. In an effort to reach isolated senior citizens that had limited ability to leave their residence, Nancy’s Towne House prepared and donated their famous thin crust pizza with Valentine’s chocolates that were delivered to senior citizens as part of the City’s “Be Our Valentine” program.

Nancy’s also adapted their business model to offer creative take home menu options like their Sangria that saw cars lined up down Main Street, looking to pick up dinner for the family.

Union County Small Business Community Champion’s Story

We are honored and humbled to be nominated for Union County Small Business Community Champion.

The last year certainly has changed our industry. We found ourselves creating ways to reach out to our customers to let them know “hey, we are here!” We want to see you and we want to help. We did curbside delivery and door to door delivery for our friends that couldn’t make it out of their homes. We made and delivered our homemade soup and get well cards to our customers suffering at home with Covid.

We made pizzas and dinners for our first responders at St. Peter’s hospital as well as JFK hospital.

We participated with the wonderful Rahway Flag organization to deliver 50 Chicken Parmesan dinners to our seniors. We supported Madison school PTO with a ten percent contribution of sales to their school.
We donated meals for food for friends through the Rahway Flag organization.

We are grateful to make it through the pandemic with the support of our customers and our community. Rahway came together as a family and we are so proud to be a part of this loving, caring, proud community. Surviving these horrible times together has given our busses a new look on life.

I open my doors every morning with a new appreciation, a new gratitude and a new found desire to serve our community and our guests.

Rahway Dance Theatre

Nomination from Tonju Anik

I began working for Rahway Dance theatre during the summer of 2019. I was impressed with how knowledgeable the students in the program were and how well the business run was. I was hopeful to find a place there even as a substitute teacher, at that time not knowing that a permanent position was mine to keep. Watching Armanii the director, navigate through challenges without sacrificing the brilliance and integrity of the company encouraged me to stay.

Being fairly new, I was unaware of just how much was happening behind the scenes. In full transparency Armanii guided her staff and families through a tough time.

The passing of its founder and owner for the past 25 years Ms. Lee, relocation, and the 2020 pandemic shut down. Without hesitation we progressed forward, providing as much support and encouragement as we could to one another in an uncertain time for all. Regardless, Rahway Dance Theatre persevered, managing to overcome all obstacles along the way.

The resilience of this company is shown in the way everyone is involved, even our parents’ dance. We can’t get people out the door at the end of the day! To recognize Rahway Dance Theatre is to find a gem; not just a diamond in the rough.

Nomination from Amanda Conforti

Rahway Dance Theatre lost its’ home but found another during the pandemic.

The new owner also fought to keep Rahway Dance Theatre operating after the original owner passed. Whether it was Zoom classes, classes in the park, or classes in the new studio, this school fought to give back to its kids through adversity.

Nomination from Lisa Ferraro

They moved into a new space during COVID and were able to adapt to the changing climate to continue offering dance to adults and children. They even offered free public classes outside at the Rahway train station which were wonderful.

They are an important part of this growing artistic community and although this is a new owner the dance school has a rich history in Rahway. I am so thankful they are here!

Nomination from Christina Formica

In my time at Rahway Dance Theatre (RDT), I have seen them through highs and lows and continue to stay true to their mission fighting for dance to continue for all of us, for the babies and the adult classes; through the loss of their original studio owner, to losing the dance studio space during the pandemic, keeping classes going virtually and outdoors, finding a new dance space and remodeling the interior – laying down their own floors, they’ve been through it all and kept going with infectious positivity.

They are resilient and have created a community within the dance studio that is just as dedicated to them as they are to us, and because of that they are true champions and an asset to the Rahway community and Union County.

Nomination from Amy Garcia Phillips

Rahway Dance Theatre not only stayed open during the pandemic but found out in June of 2020 that they would have limited time in their current location as their lease would not be renewed.

The new Director (who recently took over from the previous director/owner who passed away in Jan 2020) pivoted. She taught classes in the park, online and any way she could until they moved into their new brick and mortar location in November.

This studio managed TWO online performances (in February for Black History Month and in June for the end of year recital). It wasn’t an easy year for anyone but this studio, under the leadership, perseverance and fortitude of Armanii Saahd- Tann, not only survived, but THRIVED! She deserves this honor many times over!

Nomination from Jeffery Hines

My son has a passion for dance. RDT was recommended to us from gentleman from our church (who is a dancer by profession). Ms. Armanii has partnered with my wife and I, to go over expectation we have within the program. More importantly, she allows my son Zion to feel as if can do anything he can put his mind to.”

More importantly, during this transition period with the recent COVID pandemic. Ms Armanii successfully transitioned the classes to online via zoom. Once classes were resumed back to live. All safety guidelines were followed.

The annual big showcase was held without an audience, however the families were able to down load the show digitally. My son and many of the other dancers did not skip a beat. In what was a stressful time in our lives- This is a testament to the great leadership of Ms Armanii and her staff.

Nomination from Daphne Lee

Armanii was starting an LLC, getting right with the IRS, seeked financial support from friends & family, secured a new location, and packed up the old Rahway Dance Theatre by the late Jay Skeete-Lee, was what she thought was the hard part. And that was only one step! The tears, the doubt, the mental exhaustion, and it was still only the beginning. The studio, Rahway Dance Theatre, needed to be built from the concrete floor up.

I’ll spare the details, but if you knew, YOU KNEW. Her kindness and eagerness (or naïveté) to be a business owner was taken advantage of by folks who saw a money making opportunity out of her hard work. It was 3 grueling months (July-September) of bogus contracting work, unfulfilled promises, getting the run around, and ultimately cutting ties with the people she thought wanted to genuinely help see her prosper. The building owner then hired a legitimate company to repair and complete renovations on the building, and her suite, that was left undone and sloppily. That was ANOTHER 5 weeks of time it took her to fix.

Rahway Dance Theatre reopened for classes at the top of November 2020 pending important inspections and more work that needed to be done. But they opened! There was no real moment where she didn’t feel like she was continuously stumbling forward. Her students had been waiting since March to dance in person, they were waiting since July to dance INSIDE a studio, and waiting since September to know what the holdup was. If the dictionary had a picture for “hitting the ground running” it would be a picture of Armanii. She did everything she could to keep her promises and show her dance family & new additions that the wait wouldn’t be for nothing. She felt like her back was against the wall and she had to move quickly before she lost students that she had for most of THEIR life!

November to June. The staff continued to stumble forward until they gained their legs and got a flow. But there wasn’t a good time to celebrate. They were still in the thick of COVID: double masks, no vaccines, Lysol shortages, virtual school, fear, people sick and dying, businesses closing. Ms. Sadd-Tann felt so fortunate and accomplished to finally be doing exactly what she set out to do in 2014, but it just didn’t feel like a great time to stand in that.

June to now. She completed her first ever virtual show and awards ceremony! In a weird way, the most unorthodox year just felt SO right! All 60 of her students got to see the madness through to the end of their 1st season as “RDT 2.0”. Of course every detail wasn’t pretty; some people walked away & some were left behind in the process. But this year brought her closer to the people who she know had her back & deepened her relationships with her students. Her heart is all filled up with the opportunity to inspire & lead future artists to a world of possibilities!!!

I believe that Armanii is ready to stand in her light and accept all that the universe believes she is prepared for and to humbly brag on herself! Rahway High School Class of 2010, Rutgers University Class of 2014, twenty-eight years young and a black business owner in Rahway! And now Artistic Director of Rahway Dance Theatre!

The fact that registration is now open for the fall season has been an amazing feat to see how she moved through and survived a 30 year legacy which could have closed! She made that possible to keep arts alive in Rahway.

Nomination from Danni Newbury

COVID-19 has turned the livelihood of almost all small businesses upside down in one way or another – devastating many small businesses in 2020. Minority-owned small businesses were/are disproportionately affected by the financial consequences of the COVID-19. The economic impact of COVID-19 on the arts and culture industry (creative economy) has been unarguably catastrophic. Rahway business owner Armanii Saahd-Tann’s passion, vision, perseverance and courage saved her minority-owned small arts business from the wrath of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Rahway Dance Theatre’s mission “to introduce and educate the local community on the value of dance in every day life” was the mission local dance students needed throughout to pandemic for physical and mental health and wellness. From pivoting between weeks of virtual programming and in-person (indoor and outdoor) classes, while moving to a new location during construction of the space, and managing the needs of new and existing students, state-mandated shutdowns, and ever-changing pandemic safety protocols RDT more than survived – Rahway Dance Theatre thrived.

With gratitude for Armanii’s dedication to the creative community in Rahway, I join a huge community of people to nominate Rahway Dance Theatre as a small business champion that continues to demonstrate resilience during the pandemic and continues to give back to the community in immeasurable ways.

Union County Small Business Community Champion’s Story

I’m not sure the formatting that’s preferred for this, but I’ll send our story as a series of bullets to avoid writing novel!

  • January 2020 – The founder and original owner of Rahway Dance Theatre (my mentor and coach, Mrs. Jay Skeete-Lee) passed away from Multiple Myeloma cancer.
  • February 2020 – The owner of the building where Rahway Dance Theatre existed for nearly 20 years decided to no longer renew our lease as of June 2020, and cited that the bar/restaurant next door would be expanding to take over our space.
  • March 2020 – The global pandemic began and the state of NJ began it’s two week quarantine period where things were supposed to return to normal after. As the weeks continued, we pivoted our live classes to Zoom classes to keep our students engaged in the meantime. Little did we know that 2 weeks would become 4 months of Zoom dance classes, daily photo/video challenges, choreography projects, and hard discussions with our students. RDT featured classes on Facebook and Instagram Live that were open to the public to keep moving during the quarantine.
  • April 2020 – RDT began a GoFundMe to support the costs of our inevitable relocation, though we didn’t have a new lease secured. Our families, friends, and community members helped us to raise nearly $5000 towards flooring, ballet barres, mirrors, and more.
  • June 2020 – I took ownership of the business and secured the lease at a new location in Rahway.
  • RDT also enacted a community wide fundraiser to support a local protest organized by activist leaders in Rahway. The fundraiser sparked the “Black Lives Matter Poster Project” where we donated supplies (poster boards, markers, crayons, snacks) to kids in Rahway to create an original flyer that expressed their sentiments towards the socio-political uproar happening in our country due to police violence. The poster project was a contest that attracted nearly 50 submissions. The posters were collected, distributed and displayed at the Civil Unrest Movement in Rahway.
  • July 2020-November 2020 – It took a long time to secure the contractor work necessary to build the school from scratch, but we got it done! In the meantime, classes took place outside at Rahway Park!
  • November 2020 – We finally reopened in our new locations with COVID protocols and procedures in place. It was a heck of a first year, and we didn’t complete the season unscathed, but we pulled together as a dance family and made sure that our home was supported and ready to take on the newest challenges.

Rahway Community Action Organization

Nomination from Thora Robinson

When Covid hit our family struggled deeply. Most people wouldn’t think that an educated, middle-aged mother of three, working in an office setting would struggle with food insecurity. I’m here to tell you that I did and I’m not alone. I never felt alone and I’m blessed to have Rahway Community Action Organization who helped during this difficult time. With the increase in the need of services they were resourceful in expanding their assistance offered.

Union County Small Business Community Champion’s Story

While we have always served a low-income population throughout our 54 year history, due to the COVID-19 pandemic we are seeing greater need than ever before as our clients are experiencing numerous financial, physical and mental health challenges so we have vastly expanded our Emergency Needs Program and offered an increased number of educational workshops which are opportunities not only to learn more, but to feel supported as well, and to know you are not alone.

Our Emergency Needs Food Pantry increased from an average of 6 families per week to an average of 88 families per week. Specifically, from May through December 2020, we served 1,882 families for a total of 7,778 individuals (including children and Seniors), and from January 6 through June 2, 2021, we served 1,970 families for 9,620 people including 2,466 adults, 6,252 children and 902 Seniors.

Parents of students enrolled in our early childhood education components are also struggling to balance work and family commitments. We have been working harder than ever to provide education, support and referrals to other agencies in a myriad of areas.

The waiting list for assistance from our Family Success Center, only almost halfway through 2021, far exceeds the annual resources we are allotted by the Union County Board of Commissioners. We have been networking with other agencies and organizations to help meet the need wherever we can.

One of the outcomes of these efforts is a greater understanding of the struggles faced by the most vulnerable members of our community. Two ways in which we can offer our ‘helping hands’ are through an expansion of our Workshop Series and supplies from our emergency needs program.

Sheavon Beauty

Nomination from Kaveena Miller

Sheavon Beauty’s #1 priority is their customers. There is a mask requirement sign right on the front door before even entering. All of their workers wear masks the entire time you’re there. I feel comfortable going there because there’s a huge bottle of hand sanitizer right there on the counter. The store was clean before the pandemic but they kept it up even more. I’ve seen Shavon herself wipe down the counters in between customers coming in.

It felt good to know that I can still buy what I need to look and feel good but also know this store is concerned about my health and wellbeing. When the numbers started to rise again, I was able to order from their online store! I was able to see look amazing even while being inside thanks to them! They offered delivery and curbside pickup.

For a small business, they adjusted so quickly and efficiently during the pandemic, it was truly amazing to witness!

Union County Small Business Community Champion’s Story

This is such an honor and thank you for recognizing our small business Sheavon Beauty in the community.
I started off as a stay at home mom with a home-based business in 2015 as a natural skincare line for eczema and sensitive skin. As orders started to take up our space, my husband and I decided to open up our first retail location in Rahway, NJ in 2018

In 2020 we were mandated to shut down with other local businesses due to the pandemic. After begin closed down for 6 months we reopened and pivoted into one of the only black owned beauty supplies that carries healthy fresh made skincare such as soaps, body butters, oils and more, hair supplies and we also feature other local beauty entrepreneurs in New Jersey.

At Sheavon Beauty, we provide extra safety by using high quality disinfectants and cleaners to wipe down our jars that hold our products. We spray between customer visits, sterilize door handles and also provide free face mask to all customers that want to shop inside so everyone including staff feels safe.

However we also have 2 websites which are sheavon.com and sheavonbeautysupply.com where customers can order for mail delivery or get curbside pickup that is bought to your vehicle by a staff member. Lastly for those that are on Instagram or Facebook we provide fun skin and hair care tips that you can use at home in your daily regimen, business advice for those looking to start a business or behind the scenes clips of what’s happening so we can all feel close during this pandemic.

Our social media is @sheavonbeauty

Sinani Bakery Restaurant

Nomination from Anthony Deige Jr.

A somewhat recent addition to the City of Rahway, Sinai Bakery Restaurant, consistently gave back to their new community by teaming up with the Gallery Space. While indoor art exhibits were shut down; the Gallery Space offered virtual art exhibits with in person; outdoor exhibit openings and closings that saw Sinai Bakery open up on their off day to provide fresh cookies and pastries.

Sinai Bakery Restaurant was also one of the first adopters of the City of Rahway’s voucher program where residents would receive vouchers to be redeemed at local businesses for attending safe outdoor events. Sinai saw their business model adapt as lunch hour hit, their bakery would transform into a Mexican Restaurant. Seemingly always open, even when they weren’t, Sinai Bakery consistently gave back to the community during the pandemic.

Union County Small Business Community Champion’s Story

During the pandemic, there was confusion and absolute silence. Rahway was like a ghost town. No one walking by, and no cars going down the streets. Safety is the number one priority during this virus. We managed to get face masks and hand sanitizer as soon as possible. Luckily we had gloves already to protect ourselves a bit more. There was some changes such as limited capacity, social distancing and some temperature checks.

Sinai Bakery participated in the Rahway frontline appreciation group. It is an honor to be recognized as a Union County Small Business Community Champion, every business deserves a round of applause surviving during the pandemic.

Sirius Sales Depot

Nomination from Jackie Ronan

We made the mistake of moving during COVID. We couldn’t find a local store that was open and all shipping options were either too expensive or took way to long. I found the Sirius Sales Depot through a community post on Facebook.

They were beyond nice and affordable. They offered curbside pickup which saved us money and time. When we picked up everyone was masked and the contact less pick up made us feel safe. Our family is nicely settled because this store pivoted their business model and offered this option to us.

Union County Small Business Community Champion’s Story

We tried to meet the needs of approximately 10000 members who follow us on Facebook Marketplace during the difficult CORONA days that started in March last year, by applying CURBSIDE PICKUP methods.

We would like to express our gratitude to the people of UNION County, who trust us, especially on hard conditions.

The Coffee Box

Nomination from Anthony Deige Jr.

The Coffee Box refused to let the thriving downtown of Rahway slow down from the pandemic. When the majority of the local art and entertainment industry got shut down, the Coffee Box set up outdoor heat lamps and hired local Jazz Bands to play brunch every weekend throughout the Winter. When the City of Rahway’s Martin Luther King Jr. Birthday Brunch was canceled, the coffee box stepped up and salvaged the event by providing outdoor refreshments after the annual ceremony at the monument.

When Winter hit and social distancing was at an all time high, The Coffee Box offered free outdoor hot chocolate at the city’s Winter Wonderland holiday series to keep indoor crowds at a minimum during the holiday series while keeping the holiday spirit alive.

Union County Small Business Community Champion’s Story

The Coffee Box is a local independent coffee shop with locations in Plainfield and Rahway. We are very community based and connected. We had tremendous community support during COVID19.

Ways we were supported:

  • We received generous support through federal, state, county and local government grants. This provided much needed financial support in areas of payroll, rent, utilities and other costs. Without this support we most likely would not have survived.
  • Our customers were absolutely amazing. They checked in regularly with our employees making sure everyone was OK. People who were able to come out supported our business often daily. People under quarantine kept in touch with us through social media.
  • The City of Rahway was amazing. They worked very closely with local businesses every step of the way. The administration kept us well informed of safety procedures, suggested adaptations, alerted us of support programs and checked in regularly to see how we were doing. Most impressive is they converted a portion of Cherry Street into a pedestrian area where people could dine safely outside. As we all realized that COVID would be with us for a long time they built a permanent pavilion to encourage a safe place for people to come out and support the community. The result is a beautiful, friendly area that will be with us far after COVID is gone. Downtown Rahway feels more connected than ever before.

Ways we partnered with the community:

  • We partnered with FLAG (Front Line Appreciation Group) organizations in Rahway and Scotch Plains – Fanwood. They provided a framework where people could contribute financially and the FLAG organizations coordinated with local restaurants to provide meals at-cost delivering to hospitals, first responders and similar groups providing direct COVID care.
  • We actively participated in community social justice causes including Black Lives Matter rallies and LGBTQ Pride celebrations.
  • Similarly we partnered with Union County to provide at-cost breakfasts and coffee to the UC Covid Testing Center at Kean University. We also worked with Union County for drive-in concerts at the Union County VoTech.
  • We provided a forum for local musicians to perform outside our shops. Local music and art helped to improve everyone’s spirit.

Ways we pivoted:

  • Like all area restaurants we adapted step by step to follow all State of New Jersey guidelines. This started as all take out, then 25% occupancy and 50% occupancy. We implemented stringent cleaning procedures, social distancing, personal protective gear, etc. It was very important to keep our customers and staff safe.
  • We adapted hours to meet new business trends. For example we opened later as no one was taking trains to commute to New York.
  • We set up 3rd party delivery service so people could order and have items delivered directly to their door.

Overall we have emerged stronger after COVID19. We feel an even stronger bond with our local communities. We all lived through this together. We all learned how to be creative and support each other through each twist and turn.

We adapted business practices that will continue to help us grow as the conditions continue to improve.

Travel Skate Shop

Nomination from Nomination from Adam Priestly

We live in the apartments across from the skate shop and watched the dedication Josh displayed. Every day during the pandemic he went into his store without fail.

We would watch him promote his store with videos he would film right in front of Cherry Street. It was his savvy marketing skills that keep his online store booming. He never gave up he kept going when others closed their doors, he was right there fighting to stay open.

When he wasn’t promoting his shop he was hosting a ton of online fundraisers for frontline workers and families in need. He deserves this award!

Union County Small Business Community Champion’s Story

I was in the process of opening up my second location in Rahway, NJ. We opened up February 28th, about two weeks before COVID-19 really started to shake the world. I ultimately decided to close my original location in Roselle Park to have a fresh start in an upcoming downtown and I was uncertain of what the road ahead was going to look like.

Prior to this, I was already open for about 6 years and already developed a close community that was growing every year. I’ve always done free contests that brings the community together and a chance for everyone to win free product from my store / distributors. With the restrictions in place due to COVID-19, I wasn’t able to do these events and I didn’t want to stop giving back.

We pivoted to online and used our social media platforms to accept donations for the ones in need. We donated 100’s of pounds of food to our local food drive in Rahway, raised almost $2000 for nurses that were dealing with this head on, donated 15 complete skateboards for presents to a nonprofit for kids to have a great holiday season, met with the Mayor to open the conversation about building a skate park in Rahway and made sure to do what-ever it took to keep our doors open for the community we worked so hard to build.