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February 15, 2013 - 4:10pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in batavia, business, Rebel Storm Shelters.

Some people call them storm shelters, others fallout shelters, or bug-out rooms or bunkers.

Nate Fix thinks you should just call them "peace of mind."

Fix is now a distributor of underground shelters built by Kentucky-based Storm Shield.

The shelters come fully assembled, ready to drop right in a big hole in the ground and come in sizes that can handle from four to 21 people in a short-term emergency event.

"The shelters meet all of FEMA's standards," Fix said. "FEMA says the best place to be during a storm is underground."

There have been 20 tornadoes reported in Western New York since 1950, and with changing weather patterns, some people might want to prepare for more.

The shelters may also appeal to people worried about changing political winds.

There's even people, Fix noted, who just might like the shelters as extra storage.

"They make excellent cold food storage units," Fix said.

The shelters are watertight and, unlike concrete or steel shelters, the fiberglass bodies will last a lifetime, Fix said.

He said his company -- Rebel Storm Shelters -- is the only distributor for these units within an 800-mile radius.

Fix has three contractors ready to help residents install the shelters.

February 15, 2013 - 12:46pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in business, Le Roy, Wiss Hotel.

Tim Hens, who owns property neighboring the Wiss Hotel building and is an engineer and history buff, sent along this photo of the "Wiss House" circa 1900, when it was two stories with a wood exterior.

He notes it was a wood-framed building.

Is it possible that the three-story structure there now is the same two-story building with a third-story addition? Most of the frame structures built in the early 1800s were post-and-beam construction with wood siding. Very few remain in our area. It would have been difficult to add a third floor to a post-and-beam constructed building. Was there ever any history of a fire? Possibly they rebuilt on the same site?

Building permits were not required way back when, so the historical record is rather incomplete.

Hens also notes that the facade in the postcard pictures we ran the other day make it look like the facade is stacked stone.

Here's one of those postcards:

Of course, we all know the current facade is red brick.

Hens said it makes no sense to put brick in front of stacked stone and it isn't likely somebody would have removed the stacked stone to put up brick.

Thinking about this, I remembered something I read in the Lynne Belluscio article from 2005.

Hepps added the third story to the old two-story landmark and capped it off with a flat roof. He covered the exterior with metal siding.

In 1927 he replaced the siding with 'tapestry brick" veneer. He added the small one-story store to the east ...

So the Hepps-owned building we see above was probably sided with tin that was pressed to look like stacked stone.

I asked Hens if that was possbile and he said yes, but said such a facade in that era wouldn't not have weathered well.

As for adding the third floor to the wood-framed structure, compare window and door placement. The interesting thing to note is how the east end of the building isn't level with the west end in both pictures. 

However, Hens said a new building, given the slant of Main Street, could have been built the same way.

Personally, it seems to me unlikely that the building of 1900 would be so similar to the building of the 1920s if they were different buildings.

So here's something else to debate: Is the current Wiss the same building as the structure originally built at that location in 1802 (the construction date in an article Hens shared).

On another note, a caller this morning raised the issue that I haven't reported that the Le Roy, NY, LLC, isn't in a position to take immediate ownership of the building even if the village board approved the sale today.

That hasn't been an issue, at least in public statements, for the three trustees blocking the sale, but it's also true.

I confirmed with Bob Fussell this morning that there is a contingency in the LLC's offer that would give the group four months to raise funds sufficient to move forward with the project.

Fussell said he believes people have made sufficient verbal commitments to ensure the funds would be raised well within the time frame, but until the funds are committed, the LLC won't take title to the building.

February 14, 2013 - 12:37pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in business, Le Roy, Wiss Hotel.

Louis Buono, top photo;
Chris and Chandy Kemp; Bill Kettle

Even Louis Buono thinks the Wiss Hotel building should be saved.

Buono owns the McDonald's franchise in the Village of Le Roy. Buono is concerned that tearing down the Wiss will hurt the character of the village and do nothing to bring more people downtown.

That outcome would hurt his business.

"I am the last person that wants empty storefronts, that’s for sure," Buono said. "I stare at them regularly and it is frustrating."

When speaking of the Le Roy, NY, LLC, Buono used the word "we" a lot and indicated he is planning to invest in restoration of the Wiss if the LLC can persuade at least one more village trustee to approve the sale of the building.

In all, five people who have never spoken up before on behalf of saving the Wiss spoke at the trustees' meeting Wednesday night.

Even Police Chief Chris Hayward, who never comments at village meetings about anything not directly related to the police department, had something to say.

Hayward doesn't favor apartments for the building -- there are enough apartments in Le Roy, he said -- but he doesn't understand why the LLC group isn't being given a chance to try and save the Wiss.

"When the mayor asked me back in March to stay on and not retire, part of our discussion was about what my motivations were for leaving and what would motivate me to stay," Hayward said. "One of the motivations I talked about for leaving was that in almost 30 years we’ve turned from a community that always worked together to get things done to a community that always looks for reason not to do things.

"Robbins Nest," he added, "we came up with reasons not to do it. The pool. We came up with reasons not to keep it open. I think we need to turn back into that community that looks for reasons to get these things done.  ... I just think we’re coming up with reasons not to do something that might have a positive impact on the community."

Another downtown property owner, Bill Kettle, said he thinks tearing down the Wiss would hurt the value of his own investment.

Kettle owns the buildings at 10 and 12 Main St. He said he's put a lot of money into restoration of those buildings and considers them the bookend -- with the Wiss being the other bookend -- to Main Street.

"My focus and concern with the Wiss is maintaining the character of Le Roy," Kettle said. "I’m very concerned about the Wiss being the fuse that will ignite a larger demolition of Main Street."

Mayor Greg Rogers, later in the meeting, pretty much confirmed what a lot of preservationists fear -- that once the Wiss goes, other buildings will be on the chopping block.

The Wiss property by itself is not big enough to attract a developer for the kind of new commercial construction that attracts investors.

“I’m not going to blow sunshine up your Kool-Aid," Rogers said. "It’s going to take more than one or two. It would take that whole corner. That parcel over there isn’t big enough for basically anything by itself."

Keeping the character of the village is also what brought Chris and Chandy Kemp to Wednesday's meeting.

The professional couple -- he's a math teacher in Rochester, she's an attorney in Buffalo -- moved to Le Roy because they were charmed by the village atmosphere.

Chris Kemp said he and his wife had never heard of Le Roy before a real estate agent drove them into town, heading east into the village on Route 5.

"We came in under the train trestle, and before that it was like, ‘yeah, whatever. It’s like Lancaster. Woopie freakin’ do,' and we came under it and, no lie, it was like the sun came out, the flowers were swaying, people were walking hand-in-hand up some kind of main street, which you can’t get anyplace else," Kemp said.

The village sold itself immediately to the couple and one of the first things they did was visit the Wiss for wings and hockey while a biker gang was hanging out there.

Both Chris and Chandy said that they worry tearing down the Wiss will start exactly the kind of domino effect described by Kettle.

"I don’t want to live in Generica," Chandy said. "I could have built a McMansion in a suburb anywhere in America. I’ve been a lawyer for 20 years. I don’t have to live here, but I want to and this is why: It’s the character. It’s the village. We don’t want to be where there’s some major development on every corner."

Many, many young professionals want to live in communities that are true communities and have character and charm, Chris Kemp said.

"We’re the people you want to have here," Chris said. "We’re the people who pay your taxes. We keep the place running. We’re the people with a little money, a little ambition, a little drive and a little common sense."

Bob Fussell Jr., spoke out, too. Of course, he said, he agrees with his dad, who is heading up the LLC effort.

"I think you would make a big mistake to tear that down," Fussell said. "I don’t want to see a Tim Horton's or some commercialized garbage sitting on that corner.  When I take my daughter on her bike down Main Street, I don’t want to take her by a Tim Horton's. I enjoy main street. I’ve lived here most of my life, and that’s just how I feel."

As the conversation became a little more free flowing, with some back-and-forth between citizens and board members, Chris Kemp and Louis Buono tried to draw out of the three trustees who oppose saving the Wiss just exactly what their thinking is.

Mike Tucci, Robert Taylor and Jim Bonacquisti, have all raised concerns about safety, the viability of saving the Wiss, and for Bonacquisti, the idea that the corner is "screaming out for retail."

Buono countered that once the LLC takes possession of the building, the safety issue is resolved. There is a contractor ready now to shore up the building and even install a fire wall, though it's questionable whether it's needed.

If safety was the issue for the three board members, he said, there would be a scaffolding and yellow tape around the building already.

Getting to the point of tearing down the building will take a lot longer than it would take the LLC to resolve the safety concerns, Buono said.

As for Bonacquisti's suggestion that the corner is "screaming out" for retail, well, Buono said, the LLC's plan includes retail on the first floor.

"It can't be safety," Buono said. "It can't be retail. The LLC takes care of both of those issues."

Kemp turned to asking trustees what they envision for the corner and Tucci said, "grass."

He said, "I see grass and picnic tables."

An idea Chris scoffed at, suggesting it wouldn't be used much with Trigon Park just down the street and Chandy noted a park there wouldn't generate tax revenue.

By the end of the meeting, neither Tucci nor Bonacquisti really answered the question of what their real objections are.

Tucci seemed to reject the idea that taking down the Wiss will lead to more buildings coming down.

"I’m not for demolishing Le Roy," Tucci said.

Taylor said he remains opposed to saving the Wiss because he doesn't believe it can be saved.

In a back and forth with Fussell Sr., Taylor admitted that he's previously said he's not an expert in construction and restoration. Fussell noted that all the experts who have looked at the building say it can be restored.

"It's just my personal opinion," Taylor said, "but I think it's the ugliest building I've ever seen."

Lisa Compton has been at every village meeting on the Wiss and supports the LLC, though she said she can't afford to invest. Just as Taylor hasn't been convinced by anything he's heard, nothing Taylor, Tucci and Bonacquisti have said changes her mind.

"I’m coming at it from a taxpayer," Compton said. "I just haven’t found a good enough reason to drop it. It makes good financial sense. I haven’t been persuaded, kind of like the other board members who are against it. I haven’t heard anything to persuade me yet that it's a bad idea."

Perhaps the most hopeful word for preservationists came at the end of the village board meeting.

Tucci said the idea of the LLC putting in office units upstairs instead of apartments appealed to him. A change in business plans could change his mind.

Taylor said he agreed with Tucci.

February 13, 2013 - 6:25pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in batavia, business, Ellicott Street, Freemans Gallery.

Mike and Frank look for rusty gold every week, and Jeff Freeman always thought that looked like a fun way to make a living, so he thought he would give it a try.

Recently, he opened Freemans Gallery at 315 Ellicott St., Batavia, and filled the 4,000-square-foot space with an impressive variety of antiques and collectables.

"I always loved Pawn Stars and American Pickers, so I thought I’d try it out and here we are," Freeman said.

Freeman started picking and selling a year ago and even with the schooling Mike Wolfe provided on Pickers, the actual experience taught him a lot about what people want, what they'll buy and how to avoid getting stuck with seven fake Christmas trees and boxes of broken ornaments.

"We use the Internet quite a bit to find out how much things are valued at and we do a lot of online sales," Freeman said. "That’s how we learned what to pick and we learned what sells and what people are buying. We try to have a range of different stuff so there’s something for everybody."

Freeman's family owns a fabrication shop in Alden, and with times getting tighter, he started looking for an appropriate retail space for his store.

He liked Batavia because there was nothing else in the county that was quite what he had in mind for his store.

A lot of antique dealers make a mistake, he thinks, in pricing things for full retail, so his prices tend to be right for Batavia bargain hunters.

"If I buy something for $20 and it’s valued at $100, I’m not the kind of person who’s going to sit on it until I get $100," Freeman said. "I’ll take $40 and get my money and get out of it. I keep my prices low like that."

Freeman's sister helps with the store and they're both artists, so they've spent a lot of effort seeking out and buying paintings.

Some of his sister's work hangs on the walls along with other local artists. She's also painted some furniture to give old items an artistic flair, often suitable for a child's room.

Freeman said they will take local artists' work on consignment.

They also buy interesting items from people who come into the store or will take collectables on consignment.

The store is open seven days a week.

This is a whale sculpted by Freeman.

February 13, 2013 - 5:38pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in business, Le Roy, Wiss Hotel.

Preservationists in Le Roy still think the former Wiss Hotel building can be saved from the old wrecking ball.

In interviews and conversations this week, Wiss backers said they still don't believe village trustees will want to spend six figures of taxpayer money, creating a vacant lot with an uncertain future and expense, when there is a willing and able buyer ready to step in and rehabilitate the structure.

They hope public pressure over the expenditure -- once the cost is known -- will build, and that more people will come forward both to endorse the Le Roy, NY, LLC, and to express their support for retaining some of the charm of the village.

In fact, according to Bob Fussell, more people may show up at tonight's village board meeting to let trustees know how important the issue is to them.

He said he's heard from at least two such people.

The trustees meet at 7 p.m., and since the Wiss isn't on the agenda, any remarks will come later in the meeting during the public comment time.

Meanwhile, the process of requesting bids from demolition companies was delayed a couple of weeks after village officials learned an asbestos survey was necessary before the village could publish an RFP.

Mayor Greg Rogers said the study was completed -- though he didn't immediately have available the results -- and the RFP has been publicized.

The RFP process will give trustees the truest picture yet of just how much it will cost taxpayers to demolish what is perhaps the oldest commercial building in Le Roy.

Informal estimates have ranged from $150,000 to $250,000.

The Le Roy LLC has offered $10,000 for the building and the promise to shore up the building immediately and raise $400,000 to finance restoration.It's unlikely, according to Fussell, that the building could be torn down any sooner than the LLC could shore it up and begin rehabilitation work, negating any concerns over the building's safety.

"My gut feeling is once the community understands the potential cost to demolish the Wiss, we might get a favorable vote at that point," Fussell said.

Rogers has consistently said he doesn't necessarily back the LLC's plans, but thinks their proposal makes the most business sense for the village.

When trustees see the actual price of demolition, it may persuade one or more of them to change their minds.

"I wouldn't say it's a dead deal," Rogers said.

Trustee Jennifer Keys said she's also optimistic that at least one other board member can be persuaded to support the sale of the Wiss to the LLC.

"I hold out hope that until the building is gone, somebody is going to come forward and say something that is going to resonate with other board members," Keys said.

Meanwhile, she said she feels in an odd position. A Democrat, Keys said she feels like she's to the right of some of her colleagues on the issue.

The three trustees advocating the expense of demolition are either Republicans or Conservatives.

"I'm kind of baffled," Keys said. "I must be missing something. I'm generally seen as the most liberal person on the board and I don't see why we would spend this money and not accept $10,000 for the building."

The trustees who so far been backing spending the money are Robert Taylor, Jim Bonacquisti and Mike Tucci.

We tried to reach each of the three men this week to ask a basic question: Why not give the LLC a chance to see what it can do? What's the harm in letting them try?

Taylor said his biggest concern is the people in the LLC. He doesn't think the building can be saved and the people willing to put their own money in the Wiss will lose their investment.

"It's not a question of giving them a chance," Taylor said. "My firm belief is the building is in a condemned condition and they're just pouring their money into a bottomless pit.

"I grew up in this town," Taylor added. "I've known Bob Fussell since he was 2 years old. I haven't seen the list of people in the LLC, but I've lived here for 70 years, so I assume I know them all. Like I said before, I don't want to see anybody pour money down an empty hole."

Taylor said he has fond memories of going to the Wiss as a boy with his parents.

"I remember it when it was in its quote unquote heyday," Taylor said, "and I know what it looks like now."

He said he has it on good authority that the third floor has been suffering from water damage for 30 years and that beams are soaked with water and won't hold a nail.

"I really believe the building is beyond repair," Taylor said.

He also said, "I don't really care what they build. That's not my concern. I don't want them to spend money needlessly."

Bonacquisti also believes getting the actual cost of demolition will help resolve the issue, but not necessarily in favor of the preservationists.

"Despite the folks coming forward now, I can list three times as many folks that agree with our decision," Bonacquisti said in an interview through Facebook messages.

His position hasn't changed, he said.

"I truly believe that corner is worth a lot more empty than having that old building there," Bonacquisti said. "The traffic flow at that four corners is very high and as I have stated in the past, that corner is screaming for some type of retail where we can generate property tax and add to the employment of folks in this area."

The Wiss with apartments on the second and third floor just isn't a good idea, Bonacquisti. There are already too many apartments in Le Roy, he said, plus he knows the building well (he and his wife once lived within 200 feet of the Wiss) and the odor from vehicles, the noise and high traffic volume makes it an unappealing place to live.

He regrets that the village didn't resolve the issue three years ago (which was before he was on the board).

"I also believe taking that building down can fix that corner once and for all," he said. "Have you ever been on Lake Street in the left-turn lane? Pull up to the stop line, only to have to throw the car in reverse as a truck or bus is coming from the east turning north?"

Tucci did not respond to The Batavian's request for an interview.

Keys said she is still confused by her colleagues' position and thinks the LLC proposal should appeal to conservative politicians.

"It's free enterprise," Keys said. "It's people in the community taking care of an issue. It's a group of people who believe in it so much that they've spent their own money to get this far. It just doesn't make sense economically to spend money unnecessarily, even it's as low as $148,000. We could spend that $148,000 on infrastructure."

History: The Wiss has stood in Le Roy for at least two centuries. The original structure was built by Richard Stoddard. Stoddard died in 1810, so the building had to have been erected prior to 1810, according to an article by Le Roy Historian Lynne Belluscio. The article appeared in the Oct. 3, 2005 edition of the Le Roy PennySaver. John Wiss purchased the building in 1869. The hotel was briefly known as the Michel House after George Michel of Wheatland purchased it in 1904. John Hepps purchased it in the 1920s and renamed it the Wiss Hotel, in honor of the previous owner. Don Pangrazio ran the establishment for 40 years before closing it down in 2005. The county acquired the property in 2010 in tax lien foreclosure and immediately deeded it to the village.

February 11, 2013 - 12:38pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in batavia, business, GCEDC, Darien, darien lake theme park.

The Genesee County Economic Development Center Board of Directors has approved assistance with the following projects:

Darien Lake Theme Park. Darien Lake is planning new cabins and new rides for 2013. The total investment by Darien Lake is $5.2 million and theme park management sought assistance with $1.9 million of the investment. The board approved a PILOT (reduced property tax on the increase in assessed value due to the improvements) worth $147,339 over 10 years. The project will also save $132,000 on sales tax for construction materials. The project is expected to generate six additional full-time equivalent jobs. Darien Lake employees more than 400 FTEs.

Reed Batavia Properties, LLC. Reed is in the process of purchasing the former Batavia City Schools administration building at 39 Washington Ave., Batavia. The company is planning $1.525 million in improvements to the building, converting it to medical offices. The GCEDC board approved a $76,361 PILOT, $52,000 in sales tax exemption, and a $12,500 mortgage tax exemption. The project is expected to generate six new jobs.

Batavia Hospitality, Inc. (Days Inn / Super 8). The company is planning on investing $530,000 in building improvements, including a new pitched roof, exterior facelift and interior upgrades. GCEDC's board approved a PILOT worth $54,198 over 10 years and sales tax exemption of $28,000. The project is expected to create five new jobs and help retain 16 jobs.

February 6, 2013 - 4:24pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in business, Le Roy.

Casino's has been a Le Roy staple since 1940.

That is the year the O'Geen brothers opened the restaurant.

Current owner, Mark Schildwester, who acquired the business six years ago, said the establishment will close its doors for the last time Feb. 20.

Schildwester said he's been trying to sell the restaurant, and one deal did fall through, but it's come time for him to let it go.

He'll keep the fixtures and equipment in place for a couple of months in case a buyer comes along, but after that he plans to hold an auction and then convert the space -- on Mill Street -- into office or retail space.




February 6, 2013 - 2:56pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in batavia, business, downtown, BID.

About 50 downtown business owners and managers gathered this morning in the community center of City Church to learn more about the activities of the Business Improvement District.

Part of the goal of the program was to encourage more people to volunteer on BID committees.

Committees are:

  • Business Development Committee, chaired by Anthony Condello (pictured above)
  • Design Committee, chaired by Victor Gautieri, (second picture)
  • Promotion Committee, chaired by Mary Valle
  • Organization/Executive Group, chaired by Paul Marchese (bottom photo)
  • Visioning Commitee, chaired by James Isaac

Marchese unveiled a new mission statement and vision statement for the BID.

Mission Statement:

The Batavia Business Improvement District promotes and enhances the unique experience of shopping, working, and living in downtown Batavia.

Community begins downtown!

Vision Statement:

More Feet Downtown!

February 6, 2013 - 1:50pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in batavia, business, downtown.

This photo is actually from yesterday afternoon: City workers Kevin Hamilton and Shawn McAlister were working downtown, replacing the banners on light poles.

February 5, 2013 - 10:29pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in batavia, business, Pauly's Pizza.

Pauly's Pizza will reopen in a couple of weeks, according to co-owner Paul Berardini.

The restaurant closed today for two reasons, Berardini said. First, it's time for some remodeling -- and the dead of winter is a good time to do it -- and the doctor ordered some rest for Berardini to take care of a minor medical issue.

In a couple of weeks, customers can expect a "healthy owner," a fresh cleaning, a new fryer hood and some equipment changes, Berardini said.

February 5, 2013 - 8:43pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in batavia, business, Alpina Products.

Press Release

BATAVIA, N.Y. – Artisan dairy manufacturer Alpina Foods’ newest yogurt plant in Upstate, N.Y., has earned OU Kosher certification and has officially begun kosher manufacturing of Alpina Revive Greek yogurts and Alpina Bon Yurt traditional-style yogurts at the facility.

The OU rigorously monitors of all aspects of production. It supervises the process by which the food is prepared, examines the ingredients used to make the food, and regularly inspects the processing facilities to make sure that its standards are met.

“Our goal at Alpina is to produce and share healthy, wholesome foods with the world,” said Juan Pablo Fernandez, Alpina Foods General Manager. “Having kosher certified products enables us to continue in that goal and share our delicious, good-for-you products with even more people throughout the U.S.”

Alpina Revive is an authentically strained, all-natural and non-fat Greek yogurt that packs an impressive 14 grams of protein in every cup. It contains simple, natural ingredients such as milk and active yogurt cultures, is low in sugar, and contains no artificial ingredients, sweeteners or flavors. Each variety of Alpina Revive Greek yogurt is paired with a one-of-a-kind blend of gluten-free artisan granolas, crafted by a health & wellness chef to give consumers essential nutritional value for on-the-go lifestyles.  The four unique granola blends are manufactured by Udi’s, the leading gluten-free baked goods company.  

Alpina Bon Yurt is a creamy, low-fat vanilla yogurt that’s packed with calcium and eight grams of protein. Each variety of Alpina Bon Yurt is topped with timeless cereal favorites such as; frosted flakes, cocoa rice, fruit rings and cookie bits.

Alpina Revive Greek yogurts and are now available in a wide variety of retailers including Delhaize Group stores Hannaford and Sweetbay; Tops Friendly Markets; Gristedes; Morton Williams; Duane Reade; and other national and regional food retailers.

Consumers may also find Alpina Bon Yurt yogurts at the following retailers; Food lion, Hannaford, and Sweetbay.  For a complete list of retailers for all Alpina products, please visit please visit

February 3, 2013 - 4:28pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in batavia, business.

Press release:

Batavia-based Grease Lightning, founded and operated by local residents Ben and Jackie Thompson in 2009 have just launched their most ambitious expansion to date as 11 new locations opened January 15th -- seven in suburban St. Louis, three in Indiana and one in Illinois.

This brings their total number of fast lube and repair shops to 40 in five states. Grease Lightning’s Batavia-based shops are Grease Lightning at 4003 W. Main St. and Castrol Premium Lube Express at 50 Liberty St.

Grease Lightning’s shops have owner/operators at the local level and the company is interested in finding prospective owners to help grow what has been for the last three years the fastest-growing independent chain of fast lube locations in the U.S.A. The company also has car and truck rental, towing and detail operations.

Interested parties who would like to own a location should contact Ben Thompson by calling 716-649-9374. You can find the company on the Web at

February 2, 2013 - 3:52pm
posted by Billie Owens in Announcements, business.

Press release:

"Sew, what's happening" in the world of fashion?" Genesee Community College Fashion Design, Business and Computer Information Systems Professor Donna Ehrhart is bringing leading voices together to share insights with students and the community at a Fashion Tea on Friday, Feb. 8.

It takes place from 12:30 to 3:30 p.m. in Room T119 at the Batavia campus. Tea and light refreshments will be served. The event is free and open to the public, but advance reservations are required by Tuesday, Feb. 5.

Ehrhart has lined up a panel of diverse experts from around Western New York to talk about fashion trends and careers. The following guest speakers bring a wealth of expertise from a dynamic array different backgrounds and professions:

•    Jill Bates, of Jill Bates Fashion, a formalwear expert and "fashion physician," Rochester

•    Donald M. Brown, vice president of Charles Men's Shop, Batavia

•    Candace Cooper, a GCC student who has started her own clothing line "Can'de Couture"

•    Raul Siro Ferreira, owner of Each 1 Stitch 1 Fabric Store and Design Studio, Rochester

•    Kathy Healey, owner of Healey Wear, a sworn "fabri-holic" and designer of garments and window treatments, Greece

•    Kristine Iannazzi, CEO of Embrasse-Moi, a lingerie designer, Pittsford

•    Karen Schimpf, president of Sew On-Sew Forth, Depew

The event is specifically developed to give all the attendees, from the guest panelists, to students, and community members the chance to network, mingle and share ideas and information about fashion news, trends and opportunities.

Learning about GCC's new Fashion Design concentration and the upcoming annual GCC Fashion Show, entitled "Fashion Forward" is also part of the agenda.

"I want people to realize what a vibrant fashion community there is in Western New York," Ehrhart said. "This event will be an opportunity for students and the community-at-large to learn, share, and connect with the many outstanding resources we have in our region."

Those interested in attending the tea are asked to RSVP to Professor Donna Ehrhart by Tuesday, Feb. 5 at [email protected] or 330-9877.

February 2, 2013 - 1:56pm
posted by Billie Owens in Announcements, business, agriculture.

Press release:

It’s time to make plans to attend the Step It Up in 2013 Winter Grazing Conference on Feb 27. Keynote Speaker Cliff Hawbaker will make two presentations “Green is Grass, a Journey of Our Farms and Grazing Experience Focusing on Grass” and “Business Planning for Graziers, Focusing on Where You Are and Where You Want to Go."

The conference will be held a BW’s Restaurant, 11070 Perry Road, Pavilion, from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Hawbaker and his wife, Maggie, own and operate Hamilton Heights Dairy Farm and Emerald Valley Farm in South Central Pennsylvania. The certified organic dairies consist of 689 acres with an additional 140 acres rented land. There are 300 dairy cows and 50 head of replacement heifers. For several years their focus has been on intensive grazing management and other dairy-related issues including once-a-day milking.

Cliff has served on numerous farm related boards and committees. Presently he is the chairman of Pennsylvania Grazing/Forage Lands Conservation Coalition and past chairman of DPAC (Dairy Policy Action Coalition). His activities have included past president of Franklin County Farm Bureau, Franklin County Farmland Preservation and Franklin County Soil Conservation and AgChoice Farm Credit Board. He is also active in his local church, Chambersburg Mennonite, and The Gideons International.

Other topics to be addressed at the conference are:

  • Managing the Soil to Manage the Pasture
  • Planning for Drought: Alternative Water Sources
  • Economics of Grazed vs. Stored Feed, Economic Analysis for Decision Making
  • Pasture Plant Selection
  • Need Updates? Modernizing Grazing Dairies

Presenting these topics will be: Bill Verbeten, forages specialist; Nancy Glazier, small farms specialist; John Hanchar, farm business management specialist from the Cornell Cooperative Extension North West New York Dairy, Livestock and Field Crops Team; and Beth Dahl, dairy modernization specialist with Cornell Cooperative Extension’s Harvest New York Program.

Registration includes handout materials and lunch. The cost of registration is $40 for the first person and $25 for each additional person from the same farm. A discount of $10 is available to Cornell Cooperative Extension enrollees for the first registrant who registers by Feb. 20.

To register please contact Cathy Wallace at 585-343-3040, ext. 138 or e-mail [email protected] <mailto:[email protected]>. A flier and registration form is available at Please register early space is limited.

February 1, 2013 - 3:40pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in business, GCEDC, liberty pumps, bergen.

If Charlie Cook can do one thing as chairman of the board of the Genesee County Economic Development Center it is improve the public perception of the agency.

GCEDC claims 3,581 jobs creation commitments since 2003 spread over 349 economic development projects with a total capital investment of $835. In 2012, GCEDC was able to announce at least 300 new jobs at the Genesee Valley Agri-Business Park and WNY STAMP’s regulatory approval promises thousands of more new jobs in the coming years, according to the agency.

Local residents should take pride in hosting an such aggressive, forward-thinking, job-creating industrial development agency, Cook believes.

Turning public opinion from one of skepticism over employee compensation into one of appreciation for its accomplishments won't be a quick or easy process, Cook said.

"Nobody questions the accomplishments of the EDC and how successful we've been over the past 10 years," Cook said. "It's just been huge, but it can be a short-lived success when you shoot yourself in the foot. Certainly this incentive compensation thing was a bad decision and that's been taken away, and that's good.

"I'm determined," he added, "to turn public perception into pride for what this agency does."

Like most entrepreneurs, Cook is an optimist. He's an engineer, so he is hardwired to solve problems. He's also one of Genesee County's most successful business leaders, so he knows what success looks like.

As a Genesee County native, born and raised in Bergen, Cook is a cheerleader for our region and its prosperity.

"The ultimate goal is to keep more of our graduates, our kids, in the area."

But it's not just job creation that motivates Cook to serve as a volunteer on the GCEDC board, it's about boosting the standard of living for us all.

"It's about the well being of our entire area, whether it's job creation or just an improved quality life, that's the real reason I'm on the board. Job creation is just one of the things that leads to that."

Cook has some experience in job growth.

Liberty Pumps was founded in 1965 by his uncle, Fred Cook. Charlie Cook took charge of the company in 1975 when it had only about a dozen employees. Today, Liberty Pumps employs 135 people in its 124,000-square-foot facility in Apple Tree Acres.

Gross annual revenue for Liberty Pumps is about $55 million.

Cook is proud that his company is one where people generally enjoy their work and share in the profits, when there are profits to share.

"We have a hard time here tolerating negative attitudes or an attitude that doesn’t lend itself to performance. It’s not so much me or the managers looking for it. It’s more the peers.

"If there’s somebody who is just not with the program, it’s best for us, obviously, but it’s also best for the employee to move on and go do something else. Fortunately, doesn’t happen too often, but when it does everybody ends up better for it. There’s nothing worse than getting stuck in a job you really don't like."

After high school, Cook moved to Missouri to study at Parks College of Aeronautical Technology of St. Louis University.

He went to work for McDonald Douglas at night.

"I had no money and I didn't want to take out a loan," he said.

After graduation, Cook moved to a day shift at McDonald Douglas, but was drafted into the Army a few months later.

He was trained as a radio teletype operator and of the 96 people in his school, 93 were sent to Vietnam. Cook was transferred to South Korea.

Cook served his 21 months and then returned to McDonald Douglas, but soon realized he preferred the lifestyle of rural Western New York, wanted to be near his family and didn't fit in with the corporate culture of a large company.

His uncle hired him as an engineer.

"The reality was, we only had seven employees in the company," Cook said. "We did everything. We would build pumps in the morning, in the afternoon, if I had a chance, I would do some design work or I'd go out on the road selling. We did whatever it took to get the job done."

New employees are much more specialized and it's easy to get pigeon-holed into a particular job, but it's still part of the company's culture to expose every employee to as many aspects of the business as possible.

It's also part of its culture to communicate what's going on with the company. The most important communication just might be about profits.

Cook has taken only one business course in his life, at Genesee Community College, and one of the memorable lessons the instructor tried to impart to the class was that a business owner takes all the risks, so the owner should reap all the rewards.

It's a philosophy he has never agreed with.

"I feel like the rewards should be shared with the people who got you there. Ever since the beginning, we've had a pretty aggressive and generous bonus program, profit sharing."

Innovation is also important to Liberty's success.

The sales and marketing departments are really good, he said, at listening to customers and coming up with new ideas, but Cook also subscribes to the notion -- shared by great entrepreneurs from Henry Ford through Steve Jobs -- that often customers doesn't know what they want until you show it to them.

"That's one of the secrets of our success -- coming up with products they just can't get from our competitors."

That's why Fred Cook's business caught on from the beginning.

Liberty was originally a spin-off of a Buffalo-based pump company and made only sump pumps.

But sales of sump pumps are vulnerable to weather conditions, so Fred needed to come up with a line of pumps that could be sold any time of year.

He designed a pump that was pre-installed in a basin and contractors liked it because it was easy to install.

Since then, Liberty Pumps has continued to refine products and expand its line of pumps -- sold to distributors who sell them to contractors.

As we toured the Liberty Pumps facility earlier this week, Charlie asked me not to take a picture of a pump casing because it hasn't been released on the market yet. He doesn't want to give competitors a sneak peek.

"Our competitors have always copied us and now it happens more frequently. Our challenge is to have the next generation already under way before that happens."

That innovative spirit is what makes Liberty Pumps a fun place to work, Cook said.

"It’s really dynamic and exciting. For a boring product like a pump, it’s amazing how interesting it can get if you really focus on innovation and things that aren’t out there currently."

In recent years, the growth of Liberty Pumps has been helped by the agency Cook now helps oversee -- GCEDC.

In 2000, the company moved from a 28,000-square-foot facility on Route 19 to a brand new building in a "shovel ready" business park built in Bergen by GCEDC.  Liberty received tax abatements to help with the move.

In 2008, the company expanded its Apple Tree Acres facility to its present 124,000-square-foot building, again receiving assistance from GCEDC.

In a comment on The Batavian last week, a reader questioned Cook's position as chairman of the board and a beneficiary of GCEDC benefits.

"I would like to invite him out here and show him how that money was invested," Cook said. "Is it sort of corporate welfare? It all depends on how a company uses that benefit. We reinvested that money. Would we have had the two build-outs without the investment, sure, but the fact is, we wouldn't have had the funding to put into product development to fill things up and do another one another eight years later."

Cook's term on the board ends in 2016, but before then, he anticipates more expansion for Liberty Pumps, and in that time he expects his company will again seek assistance from GCEDC.

By law, Cook will be unable to participate in any discussion, and he certainly won't be able to vote, on any proposal for GCEDC to help Liberty Pumps.

The same assistance Liberty Pumbs has received, Cook said, has helped dozens of other businesses in Genesee County.

The assistance helps level the playing field for company's like Liberty Pumps that are based in high-tax New York and must compete against companies based overseas or in lower-tax states.

If all GCEDC did was hand out tax breaks to businesses that promise jobs to the count, it might be controversial enough, but in January 2001, the Authorities Budget Office released a scathing report on bonuses paid to GCEDC employees, especially CEO Steve Hyde.

The public outcry has been at a near consistent high pitch since then and late last year, at the same time Cook was announced as the incoming chairman, the agency said the bonus program would be discontinued starting with the 2013 performance year.

Bonuses were still paid for 2012 because, Cook said at the time, the agency was contractually obligated to pay out bonuses earned by employees based on their performance during the year.

In all, for 2012, employees received $120,000 in bonuses.

In December, the board also announced a raise for Hyde from an annual $160,000 to $195,000. Hyde won't earn a bonus in 2012, but he will receive $10,000 in deferred compensation.

The other staff members, the board announced in December, would also receive raises. Those raises range from 8 to 12 percent.

Local residents continue to take issue with the compensation of employees because they question the announced job creation numbers of the EDC, but many people also object to the annual county government share paid to the agency each year.

For 2013, taxpayers will kick in $213,000 to help fund the agency's operations.

While Cook acknowledges the bonuses paid out previously were a mistake, he said the county's should continue partial funding for GCEDC.

"Looking at this last year, sure the EDC did extremely well and they did earn some money, but our commitments for reinvestment far exceed (that revenue)," Cook said. "I think it's appropriate that the county invest incrementally. There are going to be years where we don't have that kind of success and yet you want to maintain the caliber of staff that we have. I think there would be a danger, and it would be unfortunate, if we ask for substantially less from the county."

Cook acknowledged that all of the negative attention Steve Hyde seems to get over his compensation is a concern.  It's not come to the point yet, Cook said, that he feels the need to sit down and talk about it, but he understands that anybody can find their job less enjoyable if they face constant criticism from the public.

"How long can you really enjoy your occupation with the negative scrutiny? Certainly, scrutiny is not inappropriate for what he does. That's to be expected.  We're uncomfortable for the potential that he is uncomfortable to the point of being discouraged enough to the point of leaving."

Cook considers Hyde a bit of a superstar at what he does and wants to see him stick around.

"Without actually seeing all he does and knowing about his capabilities, it's difficult for people to understand that he would be hard to replace. It's not impossible. Anybody is replaceable, but even if you did, you would have to pay at least as much as what we're paying him to get that kind of talent. It's just a fact."

Over the next year or two, Cook hopes he can help refocus the public's attention on the agency's success and have people come to understand that Hyde and the rest of the staff are paid well because they do a really good job at creating employment and improving the quality of life in Genesee County.

"Any agency that can do what his agency has done and generate this many jobs in a rural county, especially in New York State, is pretty amazing," Cook said.

January 31, 2013 - 12:05pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in batavia, Batavia Downs, business.

Press release:

The staff of Batavia Downs Casino and Thurman Thomas have released the name and logo of their new bar and restaurant to be built inside Batavia Downs Casino. After receiving hundreds of entries via a naming contest, run through Twitter, the name chosen by staff and Mr. Thomas is “34 Rush."

The logo of the new sports bar includes Thurman’s signature and the phrase “34 Rush” with a slightly pitched block font and the words sports bar underneath. Fans who wish to follow “34 Rush” may do so at as well as

“We give thanks to the many fans that submitted names over the course of last week," said Ryan Hasenauer, director of Marketing for Batavia Downs Casino. “The name of the bar correlates to Mr. Thomas’ position and his number. The bar name is not one of a typical sports bar. It’s unique, just like Thurman.”

Batavia Downs Casino is in the process of reaching out to the Twitter commenters that helped contribute to the naming of the bar. Those persons will enjoy a dinner with Mr. Thomas as well as prizes from the casino.  The facility’s $28 million dollar expansion begins on Feb. 4 and will conclude some time in the fall.

January 30, 2013 - 11:26am
posted by Howard B. Owens in batavia, business, UMMC.

Press release:

United Memorial Medical Center will restrict visitor entrance points to the facility during evenings and weekends in an effort to better manage hospital security.

Beginning Feb. 4, the main entrance to the hospital will close at 7 p.m. on weekdays and be closed on weekends. The Summit Street Entrance will close at 9 p.m. each day. Visitors to United Memorial after 7 p.m., Monday through Friday, should use the Summit Street Entrance until 9 p.m. or the Emergency Room Entrance. All visitors on Saturday or Sunday should use the Emergency Room Entrance.

United Memorial recently completed renovations to allow visitor access to the main hospital from the Emergency Department. Signs will be placed in the hallways to assist locating your destination.

“For security and general safety, it is important to monitor building activity,” said Daniel Ireland, COO of United Memorial. “We want to protect the well-being of our patients and understand the importance visitors have in the healing process. Reducing access points to the facility during non-peak hours of operation, allows us to have a manageable span of control and maintains visitor hours for our patients.”

Visiting hours at United Memorial are from 9 a.m. to 9 pm; with the exception of Maternity which is from 1 to 8:30 p.m.

January 29, 2013 - 4:34pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in batavia, economic development, business.

The Batavia Development Corp. helped create 12 new full-time jobs in Batavia in 2012, according to a report given to the city council by Economic Development Coordinator Julie Pacatte.

The BDC invested $146,555 in local businesses to leverage another $131,787 in private investment, for a total investment in business growth of $278,342.

The effort helped fill about 20,000 square feet of retail and office space downtown.

The agency also administered the city's building improvement program, based on a state grant.

The $460,000 grant program is being combined with a projected $1.4 million in investment by property owners. So far, four of six projects have been completed, including brick work on the Masonic Temple and a new facade on the PennySaver building at the corner of Liberty and East Main streets.

Among the priorities for the BDC in 2013:

  • Carr's warehouse redevelopment
  • Advance the Batavia Opportunity Area
  • Co-host creative thinking and entreprenuerial workshops
  • Recapitalize loan funds
  • Help businesses navigate planning and zoning
  • Advance the "Vibrant Batavia" efforts

Among the specific items discussed is an effort to use the Harvester Center to incubate food-processing businesses that might some day move up to the Genesee Valley Agri-Business Park or provide support for businesses in the park.

January 28, 2013 - 1:43pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in business, GCEDC, liberty pumps.

Press release:

The Genesee County Economic Development Center (GCEDC) announced today that Charlie Cook has been appointed GCEDC’s chairman of the board, while Thomas H. Felton has been appointed chairman of the board of the Genesee Gateway Local Development Corporation (GGLDC). Cook has served as president and CEO of Bergen-based Liberty Pumps since 1975, while Felton currently serves as a commercial lender for the Bank of Castile located in Batavia.

“I am honored and excited to assume the chairmanship of the GCEDC,” Cook said. “Hopefully my years of experience running and growing a business in Genesee County will help me in working with our very capable and diverse board to understand and provide what business leaders and entrepreneurs throughout the region need to be successful.

"The GCEDC will continue to foster increased economic activity through growth, expansion and retention of our existing business base, while also attracting new business development to help build a sustainable long-term economy.”

Under Cook’s leadership, Liberty Pumps has grown to become a leading domestic manufacturer of sump and wastewater pumps and systems for the professional plumbing trade in North America. Cook earned his bachelor's degree in Aeronautics from Parks College of Aeronautical Technology of St. Louis University and served in the Army.

Cook has also served in numerous community roles, including: chairman of the Genesee County Comprehensive Plan Steering Committee (2002-2006); Genesee Community College Foundation Board; vice chairman of the Genesee County Chamber of Commerce Board; and vice chair of the Gillam Grant Community Center Board of Directors.

He is a member of the Leadership Genesee Class of 2003, a past member of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York Small Business Advisory Committee, and currently serves on: the board of directors of the Genesee Patrons Cooperative Insurance Company; the Sump and Sewage Pump Manufacturers Association; and the Bergen Business and Civic Association. He was recently appointed by Governor Cuomo to the Finger Lakes Regional Economic Development Council.

Cook will take over for John “Jack” F. Andrews, who was chairman of the GCEDC since 1991.

Thomas Felton currently serves as a commercial lender for the Bank of Castile. He is responsible for servicing agricultural and commercial loans in a multi-county area. Prior to his employment at the Bank of Castile, Felton was an agricultural lender at Pavilion State Bank and the district manager of Monroe Tractor. Felton graduated from Cornell University School of Agriculture and Life Sciences with his bachelor's degree concentrating in Business Management and Marketing.

Felton has served his community in a number of different roles, including president and VP of Genesee County Cornell Cooperative Extension, serving as supervisor of the Town of Byron as well as councilman and planning board member. He was the treasurer of the Byron-Bergen Education Foundation, an elder with the North Bergen Presbyterian Church, and a member of the Byron Kiwanis Club, and past board member with the Gillam Grant Community Center.

Currently, Felton is a board member with UMMC Foundation, Genesee Valley Rural Preservation Council, and the Cornell Dairy Farm Business Summary. He serves as the president of the Northeast Agriculture Bankers Association Rural Affairs Committee and treasurer of the North Byron Cemetery Association.

January 28, 2013 - 11:13am
posted by Howard B. Owens in business, chamber of commerce.

The Genesee County Chamber of Commerce has announced its 2012 award recipients.

The honorees are:

  • Business of the Year: Oliver’s Candies, LLC  
  • Agricultural Business of the Year: Empire Tractor, Inc.
  • Innovative Community Contribution of the Year: Friends of the Batavia Peace Garden
  • Special Recognition of the Year: St. Joseph Catholic School
  • Geneseeans of the Year: James Neider & Lois Gerace

The 41st annual awards ceremony will be April 13 at the Clarion Hotel, Batavia. Tickets are $50 per person and a table of 10 is $450.

The evening begins at 5:30 with hors d’oeuvres, entrée tables & cash bar (no formal sit-down dinner is to be served). At 7, the Award Program begins at which time dessert and coffee will be served.




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