December 23, 2006

Combining service with local touch —

Downtown stores stay competitive


Joe McIntyre/staff photographer
Sherry Knickerbocker, of Cincinnatus, browses the holiday season greeting card section of Mullen Office Outfitter on Main Street in Cortland Friday.

Staff Reporter

While malls across America overflow with eager shoppers this holiday season, and big box stores such as Wal-Mart and Target draw millions of bargain hunters with the lowest possible prices, small, family-owned businesses such as Nordic Sports on Main Street do what they can to draw consumers with a mixture of niche merchandise, service and a downtown feel.
“We can’t compete with their marketing, the kind of money they have to throw around, but_we can fill a niche and bring people in with quality merchandise,” said Fred Saracene, whose family has owned and operated Nordic Sports since 1977.
Carrying top of the line ski equipment that’s in demand with a handful of ski resorts nearby has been part of the business’ bedrock, he said.
“You can’t be everything to everybody, but when a customer comes in and you can greet them by name, that’s a good thing,” he said.
Dale Taylor, who’s owned Sarvay Shoes on Main Street for 30 years, said personal service is key to his business model.
“I do my best to remember everyone’s name, where they work, anything I can about them,” Taylor said. “We’ve been fortunate to have families who’ve shopped here for generations.”
The hometown charm offered by businesses like Taylor’s was exactly what Arlene Brown was seeking when she moved her store, Arlene’s Hidden Treasures, from Truxton to downtown Homer two years ago.
“It’s all about the atmosphere — I want people to feel like they’re in an old fashioned store — and being in historic downtown Homer where the whole village feels like that has really helped,” said Brown, who said she was having, by far, her busiest Christmas season.
Linda Hartsock, executive director of the Cortland County Business Development Corporation, said she’d done much of her shopping in Homer this year, and Brown was not alone in seeing good business this holiday season.
“Business owners were telling me that business is up, and that they’re seeing an influx of business from farther away than they have before,” Hartsock said. “The more these small stores develop as clusters, the more reason there is for people to make the trip.”
Central areas like downtown Cortland and the village of Homer can still thrive, Hartsock said, even with big box competition.
Cortland Downtown Manager Lloyd Purdy agreed.
“People come downtown because of the personalized attention they can get, the relationships they have with the business owners,” Purdy said. “Businesses like that really add to the quality of life of the whole community.”
Still, it gets harder and harder to compete, Taylor said.
Warm temperatures so far this winter have greatly reduced sales on boots, leaving Taylor to foot the bill in January for all of the boots he ordered, without the revenue to pay for it.
“For a big store, that’s only a small part of their business and I’m sure they can just write it off and make it up somewhere else, but I can’t do that,” Taylor said. “I’ve got to put them on sale and try to bring in as much as I can in order to pay the bills.”
For Fritz Mullen, who owns Mullin Office Supplies, high quality and attention to detail are critical to bringing in customers.
“It’s always a struggle, but you try to give a little more service, a little more expertise for the customer,” Mullen said of his Main Street business. “Those big stores, there are a lot of things they don’t carry — typewriter ribbon, unusual things — and if we don’t have that on hand, I do research for the customer and take the time to get it.”
Taylor said that, as shoe stores like his closed in other communities, he’d been offered opportunities to expand his store to more locations.
“I’ve been offered those opportunities, but I wouldn’t want to spread myself that thin,” Taylor said. “I feel like I’d be giving something up.



$500,000 state grant to boost local music scene

Staff Reporter

A $500,000 grant will allow half a dozen local venues to increase the frequency of musical performances and the prominence of the musicians over a two-year period.
The grant was awarded to SUNY Cortland on Dec. 19 and announced publicly on Friday. The funding comes from the New York State Music Fund, which was created when the state Attorney General’s office resolved investigations against major record companies that_had violated state and federal laws prohibiting them from paying money to ensure air play for their artists.
Amy Henderson-Harr, the assistant vice president of research and sponsored programs at the college, said the $500,000 grant, as_administered for the state by Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors, would fund more than_90 performances from January 2007 to December 2008.
The program will be overseen locally by the newly created Central New York Arts Coalition, which includes SUNY Cortland, the Center for the Arts in Homer and the Cortland Downtown Partnership, and will be known as the “Live from the Heart of New York” music appreciation program.
The Cortland Downtown Partnership will coordinate performances through the Main Street Music Series, Lucky’s and the Blue Frog Coffee House on Main Street, Arts at Grace Episcopal Church on Court Street and the Classical Music Festival.
One of the requirements of the grant is that the musicians participate in community outreach, and many of the musicians will host workshops on performance and songwriting and even jam sessions with young local artists.
The requirements of the state Music Fund places special emphasis on reaching underserved populations and broadening awareness of artists, genres or styles with limited access to commercial broadcast or other mass distribution vehicles.
“Through this grant program, we will provide opportunities for individuals who have limited access to musical performances due to our geographic region,” Henderson-Harr said in a press release issued Friday afternoon.
The variety of styles and musicians will be wide-ranging, including jazz, blues, folk, classical and world music. There is also the possibility of using technology to enable electronic access, through such mediums as podcasts and availability of the music on the Internet.
Some of the money will also be used to defray ticket costs to some of the events, as well as possibly acquiring music equipment to improve performance quality and enhance existing venues for public performance. Downtown Manager Lloyd Purdy said the Main Street Music Series currently rents the stage and audio equipment it uses.
Purdy will coordinate the performances in the city’s downtown, as well as manage insurance coverage, budgeting and payments, and ensure that the arts coalition meets overall grant requirements in its scheduling of events.
As part of the grant’s requirements, each venue was responsible for lining up the musicians that were the most appropriate for the venue and suited the target audience.
“The grant helps us bring musicians who wouldn’t normally come to a Cortland tour. This helps subsidize the cost of bringing bigger-named talent to Cortland,” Purdy said Friday afternoon.
Two hundred and eighteen grants were awarded throughout the state, ranging between $10,000 and $500,000. Purdy credited the significance of the grant to the involvement of so many agencies and communities in the coalition.
“Because of this community’s strong history of music presentation, through SUNY Cortland facilities, the Center for the Arts, and the downtown venues, we were able to prove we had the capacity to connect the artists with the local community,” Purdy said.



40 Below’s goals range from wi-fi to city winterfest

Staff Reporter

A nascent group of young professionals has created six task forces to focus on specific projects in the new year.
The group, which is called 40 Below and began in October, met for its third time Thursday.
The first task force will work to create six new wi-fi hot spots in downtown Cortland and downtown Homer over the next six months.
The second task force will work to get the second floor of a downtown building market ready for professional office development. The organization will decide on the exact building at a later date.
It will achieve that by organizing a cleanup day in late winter 2007. On that day, task force members will work with the chosen building owner to clear out the buildings debris, sweep it clean and get it ready for fresh paint.
The third task force will look to develop one green building downtown using a renewable energy technology, while the fourth task force will look to create a city of Cortland Winterfest to complement the village of Homer’s Winterfest in February.
The group will meet with the Homer Winterfest committee to brainstorm ideas to link the projects and attract out-of-town visitors.
The fifth task force will explore the feasibility of making empty second and third floor spaces downtown available at discounted rates for starting entrepreneurs.
The sixth task floor will focus on creating a young entrepreneurship workshop series in 2007 at the Beard Building on Main Street.
Anyone interested in joining the group or helping with the projects can contact Cortland County Business Development Corp Director Linda Hartsock at (607) 756-5005.





Reading program promotes literacy

Staff Reporter

A series of story hours in December at the County Inn & Suites in Cortlandville were so successful they will most likely continue into the New Year, event organizers say.
Bonnie Calzolaio, who helped organize three “fireside chat” story hours at Country Inn & Suites on Route 281, said the events drew about 30 people each day.
“It was really nice,” Calzolaio said. “There were babies there all the way to kids 10 years old.”
Calzolaio works for the Family Readership Partnership, an organization in Cortland that promotes literacy, runs literacy programs and has donated thousands of books to kids since it began three years ago.
The Family Readership Partnership paired with the Country Inn and Suites for the fireside chat program — its newest program.
Two volunteers from the Family Readership Partnership read winter-themed stories at the Country Inn & Suites three Sunday afternoons this month to kids from all over Cortland County.
Volunteers consisted of Calzolaio, director of the Cortland, Homer, McGraw Teacher Center, Barb Kline, of Smith Elementary School, Karen Shirley, of Homer Intermediate School, Janet Griffin, of Randall Elementary School and Jessica Hines, of the Cortland Free Library.
After the story readings, the kids and their families enjoyed hot cocoa and cookies and each kid received a free children’s book.
“It could be a family tradition,” Calzolaio said. “Just the whole idea was warm and cozy.”
Calzolaio said she hopes the story hours resume in January and February, which originally hadn’t been planned.
Judi Riley, who also volunteers with the Family Readership Partnership, said the Country Inn & Suites approached the Family Readership Partnership after it saw an article about one of the organization’s literacy programs.
The hotel is also committed to literacy, she said, so it made sense to partner with them. Riley said this program is unlike the organizations’ other five programs.
“It’s probably one of the first sustained efforts we’ve had where we actually read aloud to the children,” she said.
Country Inn & Suites paid for the events’ costs, including the books for the young participants.
Tom Bartz, director of sales for the Country Inn & Suites, said Country Inn & Suites hotels have been committed to literacy since 2001 when all 400 hotels began the Read It and Return Program.
Through the program, children borrow a book from the hotels’ in-house lending libraries. When they return the book to a Country Inn & Suites’ hotel, that hotel donates $5 to a literacy fund.
Since 2001, the hotels have donated over $80,000 to ProLiteracy Worldwide, a nonprofit literacy organization based in Syracuse, Bartz said.