The Wilkes Economic Development Corp. awarded five businesses a total of $12,500 in its sixth annual Entrepreneurial Grant Competition this month.

Out of 20 business that submitted grant applications, business plans for seven were presented to the judges.

The five awarded grants included two new businesses: Mr. Toro Bakery and Taqueria on West Main Street, Wilkesboro, and Handy Hands Home Remodel and Repair Service in Millers Creek.

The other three are Moonshine Leatherworks in Wilkesboro, April Flowers in Moravian Falls and Key City Antique Mall on Main Street, North Wilkesboro.

Wilkes EDC President LeeAnn Nixon said the 20 that submitted applications also included businesses in the fields of recreation, information technology, retail and other areas.

Nixon said applicants were grouped as new or pre-existing businesses and judged with an emphasis on sustainability and how much they would benefit from the grant funding. She said individual amounts awarded were based on need and what would make a difference.

Nixon added that owners of the seven businesses that made presentations benefitted from coaching and counseling from Laurie Brintle-Jarvis, director of the Small Business Center at Wilkes Community College, as they developed their business plans.

“In many cases, that exercise alone (working with Brintle-Jarvis to develop a business plan) will increase the potential for a successful business venture,” she said. This service is available at no cost.

Nixon added that EDC already provides information to people trying to start or with existing businesses.

Grant Competition were Amy Blair, co-owner of North Wilkesboro-based Blair Properties LLC; Gary Daemer, co-owner of North Wilkesboro-based InfusionPoints; Adrian deKeyzer, assistant vice president of Wells Fargo in North Wilkesboro; Bob Urness, Wilkesboro finance director and assistant town manager; and Cynthia Redwine of Lewisville, a solar contractor who recently assisted Wilkes Community College with strategic planning.

Nixon said the judges also provided advice and referrals to the seven entrepreneurs who made business plan presentations.

Key City Antiques Mall, owned and operated by Chris and Tammy Johnson, opened a few years ago in a renovated portion of the former Key City furniture plant. About 95 percent of Key City’s 180-190 retail booths on 28,000 square feet of floor space are rented out. The EDC awarded the Johnsons a grant for signage and other marketing.

“We do everything (for vendors) except stocking the booths and pricing merchandise,” said Tammy Johnson. Many of the booths offer antiques, but there also booths selling a variety of other products such as stained glass, jams and jellies and various types of furniture. Hours are 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Saturday and 1-5 p.m. on Sunday.

Bryan Absher, owner of Moonshine Leatherworks, said leatherwork has been his hobby for about 10 years (starting when he needed a watch strap so he made one) and now is becoming a fulltime commitment.

Absher primarily produces “practical accessories” on a custom basis. “I make a lot of things for people in the turkey hunting community,” he added. He learned the basics in a leatherwork class while attending Appalachian State University in the mid-1990s.

The EDC awarded Absher a grant for a harness machine, which is a large sewing machine for leather, and dies for cutting leather into certain shapes. This equipment will help him increase production.

April Flowers, owned by April Ellsworth, is a floral studio offering individualized creations for weddings and other events.

Ellworth has about 15 years of experience in the business, including eight working for a floral studio based in Blowing Rock and prior to that a flower kiosk in California. Samples of her custom work are on her website, which is at The EDC awarded Flowers a grant for marketing.

Mr. Toro Bakery and Taqueria, which opened earlier this month in the former location of Nana San Japanese restaurant, specializes in authentic Mexican tacos/burritos and baked goods. The owners are Juan Carlos Salgado and Brenda Alvarenga.

The EDC awarded Mr. Toro Bakery and Taqueria a grant for a bread machine. The restaurant is open from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Saturday. It’s closed on Sunday. A taqueria is a Mexican restaurant specializing in tacos.

Handy Hand Home Remodel and Repair Service is a new business owned by Erich Hippe and Brittney Woodie. The business received grant funding establishing a limited liability company, business insurance and other startup costs.

Handy Hand specializes in residential home repairs and remodeling, but Hippe said it offers a wide range of services ranging from drywall work and building decks to pressure washing and cleanup. He has about a decade of experience in handyman work. Woodie handles the business office work.

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