Thaddeus Swanek Thaddeus Swanek
Senior Writer and Editor, Strategic Communications, U.S. Chamber of Commerce


October 04, 2023


We asked the seven finalists for America’s Top Small Business 2023 to tell us about themselves, and their work, including some of the secrets to their success – and some common themes emerged.  

Personalized customer service. White glove treatment. A sense of family. An openness to change. A need to give back. Involvement in every step. 

The seven exceptional finalists are leaders in innovation and community engagement, come from diverse backgrounds, and are a snapshot of American small businesses today. Each small business was chosen based on its business growth, ability to overcome challenges, innovative strategies, and community engagement. 

The announcement of the finalists is the latest step in an extraordinary year that started with a record-breaking 15,000+ applicants from all parts of the nation. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce announced 70 exceptional small businesses in September.  The winner of America's Top Small Business 2023 will be named at a ceremony later this month, receive national recognition and a $25,000 cash prize. 

Join us at the awards ceremony on Oct. 19.     

Here’s a closer look at these businesses and their leaders.    

Shakopee Brewhall - Taproom & Coffee House

Shakopee Brewhall is a brewery and coffeehouse based in Shakopee, Minnesota, whose mission is to bring their community together.  

“We genuinely care about customers’ experience. We try to learn our customer’s names,” says Caitlin Drayna, events and community engagement coordinator at Shakopee Brewhall. “We’re focused on making it a place where people can come and hang out for 20 minutes or the whole afternoon.”  

The company also creates a new “small batch” beer release every Saturday.  

To learn more about Shakopee Brewhall and why it’s one of our top small businesses, read their in-depth profile on CO—

Alaska Premier Auctions & Appraisals

Alaska Premier Auctions & Appraisals is a full-service auction house based in Anchorage, Alaska.  

“We’re typically dealing with folks going through a transitional phase: a death in the family, a divorce, or downsizing,” says Dan Newman, CEO and founder of Alaska Premier Auctions & Appraisals. “If our clients don’t have the manpower, time, or expertise, they hire us to be a full-service, white-glove, customized-to-their-situation solution, so they don’t have to deal with the volume of stuff.”  

The company serves the whole state and sells inventory worldwide through their own mobile bidding apps.  

To learn more about Alaska Premier Auctions & Appraisals and why it’s one of our top small businesses, read their in-depth profile on CO—

Elderly Instruments

Elderly Instruments is a family-owned music store based in Lansing, Michigan. They specialize in used and vintage instruments and have been shipping them world-wide since 1975.  

“We make sure good instruments go to great people,” says Lillian Werbin, CEO and co-owner of Elderly Instruments. “What sets us apart from our competitors is our sense of family and community. We’re a second-generation music store and we make sure our customers don’t have to wonder whether they’re getting the right information or the best instrument.”  

 Specialty items in Elderly Instrument’s “Vault” are available to play upon request.   

To learn more about Elderly Instruments and why it’s one of our top small businesses, read their in-depth profile on CO—.

Calgo Gardens

Calgo Gardens is a landscaping company, garden center, and nursery based in Howell, New Jersey.  

“It started as a garden center, but as we grew, we wanted to make it more of a wellness, lifestyle, and happiness place where you could come and learn about making things with your plants, making beautiful gardens, making herbal remedies,” says Penny Estomin, founder of Calgo Gardens. “First, we opened a café, then we thought ‘yoga,’ then beautiful cut flowers…We’ve always been open to changing.”  

Calgo Gardens hosts dinner parties, concerts, workshops on bonsai trees, tutorials on shucking oysters, and more in its expansive outdoor space.  

To learn more about Calgo Gardens and why it’s one of our top small businesses, read their in-depth profile on CO—

River Rock Outfitter 

River Rock Outfitter is an outdoor equipment company and outfitter based in Fredericksburg, Virginia.  

“We need to give back to those places where we play, our trails and rivers,” says April Peterson, co-owner of River Rock Outfitter. “We do that through a lot of volunteer work to make sure that those things stay protected and safe.”   

River Rock Outfitter fosters community with in-store events, demo opportunities, and training courses including “How to SUP with your Pup” to train dogs and people to safely paddleboard together. 

To learn more about River Rock Outfitter and why it’s one of our top small businesses, read their in-depth profile on CO—

Waggin’ Tails Pet Ranch

Waggin’ Tails Pet Ranch is an all-inclusive pet resort for cats and dogs in Fulshear, Texas. The business offers boarding, grooming, day camp, pet boutique, and training services.

“We’re family-owned and operated on 15 acres. We have four-and-half acres fenced in with 22 play yards. We treat it like it’s a ranch: your dog’s home away from home,” says Denise Einkauf, owner and president of Waggin’ Tails Pet Ranch. “You’re coming to let your dog go on vacation, while you do as well.”  

Canine guests can play at the “Corral” with their friends, be pampered in the “Salon”, or take a dip in the “Watering Hole.”   

To learn more about Waggin’ Tails Pet Ranch and why it’s one of our top small businesses, read their in-depth profile on CO—

P.L.A.Y. Pet Lifestyle And You

P.L.A.Y. Pet Lifestyle And You is a maker of luxury and eco-friendly pet toys, beds and products based in San Francisco.  

“Being part of a small business, I get to be involved in every step: ideation, development, supply chain, fulfilling, and delivery to the end customer,” says Deborah Feng, co-founder and director of operations at P.L.A.Y. Pet Lifestyle And You. “That whole journey is very unique and fulfilling for me personally. There’s nothing more satisfying than seeing a total stranger enjoying our product! It’s what keeps me going every day.”  

The company’s pet beds are stylish, 100% machine-washable, and made from recycled plastic bottles.  

To learn more about P.L.A.Y. Pet Lifestyle And You and why it’s one of our top small businesses, read their in-depth profile on CO—

How the U.S. Chamber Supports Small Business  

America’s Top Small Business, formerly known as the Dream Big Awards, is part of the U.S. Chamber’s longstanding commitment to supporting and advocating for small businesses. We work every day to fight for policies and regulations that benefit small business, elevate the voice of America’s small business owners, highlight the role they play in the nation’s economy, and support Main Street businesses’ growth and success with tailored resources and expert insights.  

Learn more about the U.S. Chamber’s small business work here.   

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    About the authors

    Thaddeus Swanek

    Thaddeus Swanek

    Thaddeus is a senior writer and editor with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce's strategic communications team.

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