Bel Air Business of the Year
28th Annual Business of the Year Award
The Bel Air Board of Town Commissioners recognizes outstanding businesses in the community by selecting an annual Bel Air Business of the Year. The award is bestowed upon businesses that have positively impacted the local economy and are actively involved in special projects, events and partnerships throughout the town.
A call for nominations will be released in May with nomination forms available on the Town’s website. Nomination forms for Business of the Year are available online. The deadline for submitting nominations is July 15, 2023. (The nomination period has closed for 2023)
Please call 410-838-0584 for more information. Nominations are reviewed by the Town’s Economic and Community Development Commission, with the winner announced at the annual awards ceremony.
2023: LOONEY'S PUB
Looney’s Pub hosts many charity events throughout the year, raising thousands of dollars through a portion of sales donated back to the designated organization. Notably, Looney’s hosts an annual fundraiser for St. Baldrick’s for childhood cancer research, which has raised over $400,000.00 in 10 years, with Looney’s contributing $40,000 of its own to that cause.
Looney’s also gives back to the educators, first responders and service members in our community with events such as teacher appreciation nights, free meals for first responders and law enforcement, as well as military discounts and fundraising for Fisher House, which provides housing for military and veteran families while a loved one is in the hospital.
In addition, Looney’s has hosted fundraisers for countless nonprofits including The Kaufmann Cancer Center, the Chesapeake Cancer Alliance, the Humane Society of Harford County, Autism Awareness, the Down’s Syndrome Society of MD and the Sheriff’s Benevolent Fund, which raised $110,000 in a one-day event.
Looney’s Pub was also there for the displaced restaurant workers with fundraisers during the COVID-19 pandemic, and they are always willing to lend a hand to Bel Air Downtown Alliance events, such as hosting Main Street Socials, serving as a stop on the Chocolate, Brew & Wine Tour and participating in the Christmas in July Bar Crawl.
We are truly grateful to Looney’s Pub for their dedication to the community and for their contributions to the Town of Bel Air. Congratulations!
2022: To wag for
Owner: Milya Burian
To Wag For has become a wonderful destination on Main Street and has created a joyful place for a very appreciative population – the dogs and cats of Harford County!
To Wag For has made the Main Street area a better and more pet friendly place! The store participates in all activities in Bel Air and is a major sponsor of Winter Wonderland. The store manager dressed up as Santa for 3 months for pictures with dogs and kids alike! They help with recycling, attend meetings, and always try to be there for their neighbors and the wider community. They LOVE Bel Air from the largest company to the smallest street corner, and they pride themselves on kindness, community, and compassion.
To Wag For continues to succeed due to their dedication to the community around them, and they have contributed to sponsoring events and support the Downtown Alliance in their efforts to attract people to Main Street. They extend their hours during Town events and work overtime to help make our Town the best that it can be!
2021: MUSIC LAND
Owner: Larry Noto
Music Land is celebrating its 50th anniversary in 2021 and has served thousands of musicians during its time in Bel Air.
As many of you know, Larry took over Music Land after the passing of his father and founder of the store, Joe Noto, in 2015. Music Land has been the recipient of several awards through the National Association of Music Merchants including Best Store Turnaround and a spot on the Top 100 Music Stores in the world. Music Land was also recognized with a Local Business Excellence Award by the Comptroller of Maryland.
Locally, Music Land often steps up to donate sound equipment for events such as Music on Main that was just held in this space in August or Music at the Manion which is held at the Liriodendron.
The addition of the Music Land Live space has provided an opportunity for the community to gather with events such as Open Mic Nights and Music Master Class Program that was held in partnership with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra and Maryland Center for the Arts.
Larry has fully embraced his father’s legacy through his active participation in the arts community in Bel Air and Harford County. Larry serves as a Board Member for the Maryland Center of the Arts, the Treasurer and Board Member for the Scottfield Theater Company, a member of the Bel Air Arts & Entertainment District Advisory Board, and a former board member of the Harford County Cultural Arts Board. Larry is also an active member of the Society of Italian American Businessmen and a member of the Upper Chesapeake Hospital Next Generation Leadership Council.
Music Land’s involvement in the community and their efforts to promote Bel Air are hereby acknowledged and we honor and applaud Music Land for their contributions to the Town of Bel Air. I am proud to present the 2021 Business of the Year Award to Larry Noto of Music Land. Congratulations!
Owner: Ben Meyer
Vagabond Sandwich Company is the quintessential neighborhood gathering place located in the heart of Bel Air. Owner Ben Meyer purchased Dillweeds, located at 111 Thomas Street, in 2013 and changed the name to Vagabond Sandwich Company in 2014. He currently has thirteen members on his staff.
If you have spent any time with Ben at all, you can quickly see that he humbly gives back to our community as part of his daily business practice. Ben is dedicated to Bel Air and to creating a strong sense of community at Vagabond, offering frequent events for his customers. On Mondays and Tuesdays each week, Vagabond partners with local nonprofits and provides 20% of sales back to the partnering organization. This generosity benefits many groups and schools throughout Bel Air and Harford County.
In the restaurant, you will frequently find ways for the community to gather. Whether it’s the twice-a-month open mic nights, weekly trivia nights, or Wednesday kids’ nights with costumed characters where kids eat free, there is often a way you can get involved and meet new people at Vagabond.
Vagabond offers several scholarships to local students. Ben is a graduate of Bel Air High and thought creating a scholarship would be “a cool way to give back.” The recipient is a Bel Air High School senior who may not necessarily be at the top of their class. Ben wanted to create a non-traditional scholarship that is offered annually to a student with a strong passion for adventure. Another scholarship Vagabond Sandwich Company sponsors is offered through Music Land in Bel Air and is a need-based scholarship for instrumental music lessons.
Local musicians feel right at home at Vagabond. Three years ago, Ben started Sandwich Stock, a free outdoor music festival held annually in the fall that features live, local bands. The event benefits Band Together of Harford County which refurbishes and distributes musical instruments to Harford County Public School students who otherwise couldn’t afford them so that they can participate in music education. This year’s event raised over $2,200 for the organization. Vagabond also offers local musicians an opportunity to perform through the Start Something Spotlight Series. Donations at this event also benefit Band Together.
Talk to anyone about Vagabond and they will tell you, it’s not just about the amazing food offered in the local restaurant; it is also about the feeling of community there. Through these efforts and others, Vagabond’s charitable contributions were almost $30,000 in 2018 alone.
Vagabond’s involvement in the community and their efforts to promote Bel Air are hereby acknowledged and honored as the 2019 Bel Air Business of the Year. Congratulations!
Owners: Andrew, Michael & Howard KleinKlein’s Shoprite has been in Harford County since 1925 and opened its doors on Main Street in 1983. Famous for its small-town feel, Klein’s ShopRite is a community grocery store that offers all of the amenities of a modern, full-service supermarket.
Klein’s Shoprite has a long history of partnering with local nonprofit organizations. Some of the groups they have worked with in the community include:
- Upper Chesapeake Medical Center, Klein Ambulatory Care Center
- Bel Air Downtown Alliance
- Bel Air Volunteer Fire Company
- Albert P. Close Foundation
- Ames United Methodist Church
- And several schools in the Bel Air community
Klein's charitable giving focuses on supporting organizations that enhance the health and well-being of the community where their store is located. In addition, the Klein’s ShopRite of Maryland Charitable Fund Small Grants Program allows nonprofits to apply for grant funding. The Klein Family also supports local education through the Ralph and Shirley Klein Foundation School Grant which is administered through the Board of Education.
Owners: Harry O’Neill and Beth & Phil Rudy
Established in 2015, Independent Brewing Company is a small batch, full production craft brewery located at the north end of Main Street. They offer a large tap room as well as an outdoor patio area for their customers to enjoy. Their casual vibe and outdoor seating are a draw for people from all over Harford County and across the region.
Independent Brewing Company is dedicated to sustainable business practices and works in partnership with the local farming community on spent grain recycling and malt/barley production, making them a leader in the industry.
A number of events, including performances by local musicians and art exhibits, are held at the brewery throughout the year. Known for their community involvement, Independent Brewing Company has partnered with:
- Boys & Girls Club of Harford County
- Humane Society of Harford County
- Upper Chesapeake Cancer LifeNet
- Dysautonomia International
- Police Unity Tour
- And many others
2016: Sunny Day Cafe
Owner: Laurie Orfandis*Sunny Day Café opened its doors in 2012. Since their opening, they have grown a huge, loyal following because of the great service and excellent food they provide and their willingness to give back to the community. They have created a lot of activity for the south of end of Main Street with their popular outdoor seating option. You will find friends and families gathering and business meetings happening on a daily basis at Sunny Day.
Sunny Day Café has a great partnership with other downtown businesses and frequently uses their social media platform to promote others. Laurie focuses on providing great service and a quality product so that residents of the community will come and spend time downtown. Laurie’s efforts have gone a long way to further the existing positive culture that exists among downtown business owners.
Laurie and her staff are involved in the community and in Town activities in many ways. They volunteer with the Downtown Alliance by serving at the BBQ Bash and First Fridays and also by providing cocoa and hundreds of cookies for the Christmas Parade. Laurie also believes strongly in giving back to the community by providing donations to schools and local organizations and also by hosting fundraisers at the restaurant. SARC and the Cancer Alliance are two examples of organizations that have benefited from Sunny Day Café’s generosity. In addition, when our community was devastated by the loss of two officers, Laurie and her staff held a benefit event at the Armory for the COPS and LEO Wives foundations with money raised benefiting police in Maryland.
*Laurie sold Sunny Day in 2019 to Ilias Vassilaras and John Smoudianis; however, the community efforts under the new ownership continue on.
Owner: Jay EllenbyFounded in 1985, Safe Harbors Travel Group moved its headquarters from Baltimore to Bel Air in 2011. Jay Ellenby assumed ownership of the company after the sudden passing of his brother in 1994.
Safe Harbors established the Robert W. Ellenby Travel & Tourism Scholarship through the Community Foundation of Harford County to “to foster and promote career interest in the travel industry and to support students who wish to pursue a travel-related profession.” The scholarship is offered to Harford County residents who have been accepted and committed to an accredited travel and tourism program, at the associate, bachelor, or graduate degree level.
In addition to their scholarship, Safe Harbors Travel Group is involved in the community in many other ways as well. Service to the community and memberships held by Safe Harbors Travel Group include:
- Commonwealth Business Travel Group (CBTG)
- American Society of Travel Agents (ASTA)
- Visit Harford!
- Harford County Chamber of Commerce
- Harford Community College
- Bel Air Downtown Alliance
- Economic Development Advisory Board of Harford County (EDAB)
- Economic Community and Development Commission (ECDC)
- Small Business Development Center (SBDC), Northern Region
- Bel Air High School
- Bel Air Recreation Committee
- Harford Leadership Academy
- Anna’s Guys
2014: The Kelly Group
Owners: Bill Kelly and Bryan KellyFounded in 1997, the Kelly Group offers wealth management, capital management, CPA and consulting services. 90% of their clients are located in Harford County, however their commitment to the local community goes well beyond the services they provide.
Service to the community and memberships held by The Kelly Group include:
- Harford Leadership Academy
- Economic & Community Development Commission
- Town of Bel Air Christmas Parade
- Town of Bel Air Film Festival
- Greater Baltimore Committee
- Greater Bel Air Community Foundation
- Friends School
- Harford Community College
- UMBC Department of Economic Visitors Council
- Upper Chesapeake Medical Center Foundation
- Harford Bank Board of Directors
- Boys and Girls Club of Harford County
- Harford Day School
- Edgewood High School Academy of Finance
- Women’s Giving Circle
- Habitat for Humanity
- Harford County Chamber of Commerce
2013: Tiny Toes
Owners: Karen Jacobs and Tina LewisSince opening in 2006, owners Karen Jacobs and Tina Lewis have been involved with many community projects. Some of the organizations they have partnered with include SARC, House of Ruth, Habitat for Humanity and Toys for Tots. They also have provided support for the Town of Bel Air Child Safety Fair. In addition, they have served as sponsors for community events such as the Outdoor Movies in Shamrock Park and the Christmas Parade.
Karen has also been a part of the Bel Air Downtown Alliance, including two years as its President. She is so appreciative of the help that was provided to her when she was getting started, that she has decided to be a part of giving back to other businesses through her work with the Alliance.