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Small Business of the Year: Cottage Grove Auto & Collision recognized

As general manager of Cottage Grove Auto & Collision, where crumpled fenders and dinged doors are mended, it’s expected that Tim Babbini would do a bang-up job.

But it’s his work in support of the annual Chamber Golf Classic that netted the local car repair shop the honor of Small Business of the Year.

This year’s Chamber Golf Classic took place June 10 at River Oaks Golf Course in Cottage Grove. Proceeds from the event went to the Chamber’s scholarship program, which awards four scholarships to local graduating seniors. Last year, they were able to increase the amount of each scholarship from $500 to $1,000 per student.

Sherry Wilwert, a salesperson at Edina Realty in Cottage Grove and a former member of the Chamber Selection Committee, attributed much of the Golf Classic’s success to Babbini’s work lining up sponsors and securing contributions of gift cards, merchandise and services from area businesses. The items are used in raffles and gift bags at the event.

“He’s probably 80 percent of that golf tournament,” Wilwert said. “He’s such a go-getter in getting other businesses to donate prizes.”

Through Cottage Grove Auto & Collision, Babbini also contributes to the Holiday Train, the annual hunger relief tour by the Canadian Pacific Railway that stops in Cottage Grove in between Thanksgiving and Christmas.

Babbini credits his business friends and associates for their generosity in providing prizes for the Chamber Golf Classic.

“We all get along real well,” he said. “They give a lot of stuff I don’t expect. Anything you can think of, it’s given.”

Becky Kirby, of Cottage Grove, worked with Babbini on the Golf Committee.

“He works so hard on getting donations from different companies and prizes for that event,” she said. “He makes it fun. Everybody likes to work on that committee because they like working with him. He’s just a great person and business to have in our community.”

Babbini often starts work on the event as early as February, when the greens and fairways are still likely to be drifted over with snow. That’s when he starts working the phones.

“I’m a golf freak,” said Babbini.”If it involves golf, I’m out there.”

Don’t ask him what his handicap is, though.

“It’s atrocious,” he said.

When Cottage Grove Auto & Collision opened in January 2010, it was a “cold opening” in more ways than one.

“We started the business from scratch,” Babbini said. “There was nothing prior to that.We barely advertised. We opened and took a shot at it.”

Growing up in Northfield, he said his grandfather and his father, both of whom were business owners, stressed the importance of Chamber membership. One of the first things he did when helping to open the new business was to join the Cottage Grove Area Chamber of Commerce.

“It’s worth it tenfold,” he said.

He said Cottage Grove Auto & Collision performed free car repairs for a woman whose husband was serving in Afghanistan. He said they also donated to Stone Soup Thrift Shop in St. Paul Park.

“We try to give back to the community,” Babbini said. “If we can donate money or goods, we do it.”