Local Matters

Recent comments

Community Sponsors

Chamber Awards

March 4, 2016 - 5:32pm
posted by Billie Owens in p.w. minor, Chamber Awards, news, Business.


The oldest business in Genesee County was set to shut down on July 31, 2014, nearly done in by lackluster sales and a frumpish product line, despite having outsourced 100 jobs to China in an effort to keep costs down and stay afloat.

But thanks to two local guys who stepped up and came to its rescue, creating the New p.w. minor company, the 150-year-old shoemaker and orthodics producer is still standing, striving to thrive.

Fifty jobs were retained by keeping the business, located at 3 Treadeasy Ave. in the City, in operation. Then the hard part of rebuilding began.

Peter Zeliff and Andrew Young, although the latter is no longer with the firm, invested in the business, worked with local and state officials to work on bringing back those jobs from China, hired new designers and are revamping the product line. Things are turning around. This is why the New p.w. minor was named the Genesee County Chamber of Commerce's 2015 Business of the Year.

"I honored to be named Business of the Year," Zeliff said. "I don't know that we deserve it yet. But we're moving in the right direction. It's taking longer that I had planned on, but we're going to get there."

Zeliff and Young didn't need to take the risk, but they valued a mainstay business of the local economy and did not want to see it close. Zeliff is now CEO of p.w. minor and sits on the board of Oakfield-based EIF Renewable Energy Holdings, LLC, where he once was an executive. Young is a real estate broker and investor.

"Our goal is to bring manufacturing back to Batavia and expand it," Zeliff said in August of 2014. "We are excited to be a part of the resurrection of this American icon."

The company was founded in 1867 by two brothers shortly after they returned from fighting in the Civil War. But despite its historic roots and rich tradition of making high-quality leather footwear, like many small and mid-size businesses, worldwide economic trends and the withering of manufacturing in the Northeast took its toll.

Reversing the gloomy course of p.w. minor took money, business acumen, vision and commitment, according to the leaders who embraced Zeliff and Young's plans, including Gov. Cuomo, Sen. Michael Ranzenhofer, Steve Hyde, president and CEO of Genesee County Economic Development Center, Assemblyman Steve Hawley, Howard Zemsky, president and CEO of Empire State Development, County Legislature Chairman Ray Cianfrini, et al.

Last year, p.w. minor outlined long-term plans to upgrade and automate its production facilities, putting the total price tag at $7.5 million. Empire State Development pledged to provide up to $1.75 million in performance-based tax credits, including a $900,000 state-backed aid package to re-shore the China jobs and add jobs.

Since the acquisition in 2014, Zeliff said 30 jobs have been added, but five of those were temporarily cut today (not the 10 as rumored).

"We expect to bring those jobs back in four to 12 weeks," Zeliff said this afternoon.

He explained that later this year -- late summer, early fall -- newly purchased production equipment should be in place in Batavia-- to help do the jobs that were being done in China. So far, Zeliff said $1.3 million has been invested in new equipment to upgrade and automate facilities here; and another $500,000 will be spent this year on shoemaking equipment, including molds, from Italy, known worldwide for shoes and leather goods.

New shoe designs were rolled out, or are being developed, that offer not just the fit and comfort p.w. is renowned for, but style, too.

There's been a big learning curve, and sometimes it's been frustrating. Zeliff said it's sometimes s-l-o-w going when it comes to dealing with state bureacracy. And developing new molds and products, likewise, has taken more time to achieve than he initially anticipated.

"I was a landfill gas-to-energy person," Zeliff said. "I may have underestimated what it takes to do this, but we'll get there."

March 4, 2016 - 10:50am
posted by Howard B. Owens in Chamber Awards, genesee county, Jay Gsell, news.


It might seem odd that a man who has spent his entire professional career in government would distrust government, but if you understand there are different levels of government, it makes perfect sense.

And it explains why a man like Jay Gsell would use the experiences that shaped him as a youngster growing up in the 1960s to drive his chosen career path.

From the outset, Gsell avoided jobs in state and national bureaucracies and instead focused on local government, where he thought he could have the greatest impact, do the most good for the most people.

"I still have a rampant skepticism of state government and the federal government in terms of, you know, the attitudes in many cases where I don’t sense there has been a necessary evolution in many cases," Gsell said. "I like to think that what we do here at the local level, whether it’s at the city government level, a village level, town or county level, is we’ve done a lot a more, been a lot more progressive, been a lot more creative, tried to do things that work for the greater good of the greater number, with, I guess, a  sort of altruism."

Gsell's approach to his work as county manager -- a single-minded focus, dedication, and that sense of civic purpose -- is why he is the recipient of the 2015 Wolcott “Jay” Humphrey III Community Leadership Award from the Genesee County Chamber of Commerce.

Not that local government is always perfect. Gsell, after all, grew up in New Jersey.

"Where I grew up in New Jersey, it was always government is just bad, you know," Gsell said "Even today you look at it and it still happens in New Jersey.  You look at the last three or four mayors in the city of Atlantic City. It’s not only a city that is totally bankrupt, but three or four of them were indicted. It’s kind of like the governors of Illinois. There’s a Who’s Who list on the post office in Atlantic City and it has more public officials on it than it does regular criminals."

There are bad actors everywhere, of course, but the value of local government is it is the government that is closest to the people and where the average citizen can have the most impact.

As a child of the 1960s, Gsell is well acquainted with the Vietnam War and Watergate. Those towering events influenced his views on bigger governments tremendously.

In college, Gsell's English class was given an essay assignment, asking the students to share their take on the Vietnam War. Gsell's response, "Why don't we get the hell out?" The U.S. had no business being there in the first place and people were spitting on returning soldiers.

"To me, that's really where I started to say, 'wow, I’m having sort of an epiphany here' in terms of, you know, the attitude," Gsell said. "Shortly thereafter we started seeing what was going on in the next administration in Watergate and other things and it just kind of kept reinforcing the fact that those next levels, those upper levels of government were, one, not the place I wanted to work, and two, the trust factors, things of that nature, were not real high."

Gsell couldn't escape Jersey right away. He needed a place to start, and he landed a job in Trenton. While at Trenton, he completed his master's in public administration, finishing the course work in 18 months. Gsell ran track in high school and in college, so he was able to get his master's at American University at no cost by becoming a track coach at the campus.

Gsell doesn't run anymore, because of a heart condition discovered and dealt with in 2010, but he can be found most mornings on the city's streets out for long walks. It's how he prepares his mind and body for a full day of work.

From Trenton, he traveled to Norton Shores, Mich., and Eau Claire, Wis. 

He worked in both cities for an administrator named Steve Atkins, who became a career-long friend and mentor.

After several years of working together, Atkins told him it was time for him to strike out on his own, lead his own administration. Gsell went to Marshalltown, Iowa, and Atkins ended up in a new job just down the road in Iowa City.

Atkins retired five years ago, but he and Gsell still talk regularly.

"We never stopped communicating in terms of what we’ve done throughout our careers," Gsell said.

In Marshalltown, Gsell found himself inheriting a financial crisis brought on by corruption. Marshalltown's treasurer and the president of the Iowa Trust were involved in what turned out to be a Ponzi scheme that wiped out $107 million worth of investments for 88 local governments.

"We woke up one day in December of 1991 and everything was gone, except the stuff he (the president of the trust) had, the boats and houses and some of the other, shall we say, accoutrements of a high lifestyle that he still possessed," Gsell said. "The local governments were on the verge of bankruptcy."

Marshalltown itself was out $7 million.

"About a year and a half later after we recovered 95 percent of the money," Gsell said. "The city attorney and I worked together and we got rid of the city treasurer. He had her escorted out by a police. She was 15-year employee who thought that she was untouchable but I said, 'Elaine, you had to know better.' "

Even though the fiasco started before Gsell took over as the administrator in Marshalltown, the turmoil didn't leave him unscathed. After it was resolved in 1993, "it became fairly obvious that it was time for me to seek other employment."

So he applied for the open county manager's spot in Genesee County, replacing Charlie Myers, who had been on the job for 11 years -- a long time for anybody to hold a top slot in local government.  

The county started with 90 candidates and when it was reduced to 10; the final 10 were brought to the town of a series of interviews with three or four panels of local community members.

Obviously, Gsell won the job. He's been at it for 23 years and though he knows retirement can't be too far away, he has no immediate plans to stop.

He's still energized by the challenge of making local government work, even in a climate of state and federal mandates, financial restrictions and ever tighter budgets.

Among the accomplishments Gsell thinks he can point to are assisting with the consolidation of emergency dispatch and helping the city get out of the ambulance business, and now he's charged up about potentially helping the YMCA expand its programs and possibly move into a new building.

Genesee County has provided the kind of stability he expected when he took the job.

"To me, this is pretty nonpartisan at the county government level," Gsell said. "I recognized that yes, Sheriff is Republican, Country Clerk is Republican, the DA is probably a Republican, and certainly the majority of legislators. But when it comes to my job, because my code of ethics says you have to be apolitical or basically you don’t belong in this profession, that’s worked out very well here and I think this country, in general, has conducted itself in that way.

"We have a service to provide. We have to do the best for the people that we serve and also we have to keep thinking about the idea that it’s not because that you have a political persuasion or that you have a certain status in the community."

Gsell leads a healthy and sober life. He sees that sort of straight-and-narrow discipline as part of his chosen career as much as understanding the numbers behind pension plans and the complicated formula for figuring out the tax cap. He hasn't consumed an adult beverage since the day he watched O.J. Simpson in his white Bronco on an L.A. freeway in 1994. 

"You will never see me in a police blotter or blowing anything but a .000000," Gsell said. 

He's also never even touched, even in college, any recreational drugs.

"I lead a pretty pedestrian life in that regard," he said. "To me, it's part not putting myself in those situations where it's like 'oh wow, look at that. That person thinks that they could get away with stuff because of his possession and his title.' I don't run that way. Basically, you live like you wanted to be treated. That means you are pretty much clean as the driven snow. I am not perfect certainly, but I also don't put myself in situations that I think reflects on what I think should be the image of this organization and what I would like to think is my personal persona in the community."

Gsell has served on the Board of Directors for United Way in every community he's worked. He's also active in Rotary, as well as other community organizations over the years. Community involvement, he said, has always been a way for him to expand his horizons and meet new people.

"I guess I call it my passion to be involved in those kinds of initiatives and those kinds of efforts, that say, 'This isn't just my day job, but it is also how I try to improve the community,' " Gsell said.

March 3, 2016 - 4:07pm
posted by laurie napoleone in Chamber Awards, Guthrie-Heli Arc, inc., news, Business.


Guthrie Heli Arc, Inc., provides a one-stop shop to purchase sewer trucks, street sweepers, grapple loaders, refuse bodies, recycle trucks, and carpet tippers, both for municipalities and the private sector. They also offer welding repair and recertification of pressure vessels, such as those used for propane, fuel oil, and gasoline.

Guthrie Heli Arc is the Genesee County Chamber of Commerce 2015 Small Business of the Year.

(It is located at 6276 Clinton Street Road, Bergen. And although it has a Bergen address, it pays Town of Stafford taxes and for municipal permits and similiar issues, deals with Stafford government.)

Owners Matt and Meg Ryan purchased the company from Meg’s dad, Bill Guthrie, and became full owners approximately three years ago. Meg is president of the company and said "in a short time, we went from renters, to buying property, which quadrupled our space and currently have nine employees.”

They have also recently started to sell Primo grills, which are ceramic charcoal grill/smokers that are made in the USA.

Matt Ryan has a mechanical background from his experience in the Army and learned welding from Meg’s father and other workers. He is a certified welder and runs the shop.

Meg has a history of selling truck equipment. She originally worked with her father, then moved out of state where she gained sales experience.

Through the purchase of the business, they were able to retain some of Bill Guthrie’s core customers. They are members of the Genesee County Town Highway Superintendents Association and work with other municipalities. They are working hard, going door-to door, going out on the road, gaining more customer base and continuing to grow.

When asked what she is most proud of, Meg said “I am extremely happy Matt and I are able to do this together; happy to be in the Town of Stafford in a community that supports our business; and lucky to have good long-term employees."

February 3, 2016 - 4:17pm
posted by Billie Owens in batavia, Chamber Awards.

Press release:

The City of Batavia is currently seeking nominations for the following annual recognition awards:

  • Community Volunteer of the Year
  • Homeowner of the Year
  • Business of the Year

These recognition awards will be presented by City Council at a future City Council Business Meeting.

Nomination forms are available on the City Web site: www.batavianewyork.com under the home page of the Web site or they can be picked up at the City Manager’s Office or requested by phone at (585) 345-6333.

Nominations will be accepted through March 1. Please submit your nominations to Lisa Casey by e-mail at [email protected], by fax (585) 343-8182 or by mailing at the address below.

If there are any questions, please contact:

Office of the City Manager

One Batavia City Centre

Batavia, New York 14020

Phone: (585) 345-6330

Fax: (585) 343-8182 

December 17, 2015 - 11:06am
posted by Howard B. Owens in chamber of commerce, Chamber Awards.

Press release:

The Genesee County Chamber of Commerce will celebrate its 44th Annual Awards Ceremony on Saturday, March 5, at the Clarion Hotel, Park Road, Batavia. This is the County’s premier event that honors businesses and individuals for their achievements in business, community service and volunteerism. Tickets are $50 per person or a table of 10 for $450.

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

This year’s honorees are:

-- Business of the Year: The New p.w. minor   
-- Small Business of the Year: Guthrie-Heli Arc, Inc.  
-- Agricultural Business of the Year: Post Dairy Farms, LLC   
-- Special Community Service Recognition of the Year: GLOW YMCA Challenger Program  
-- Geneseeans of the Year: Susie Boyce and Barry Miller (posthumously)
-- The Wolcott “Jay” Humphrey III Community Leadership Award: Jay Gsell 

March 1, 2015 - 2:10pm

The Genesee County Chamber of Commerce held a gala at the Clarion Hotel last evening to honor its 2014 award winners.

(Pictured above L to R) 2nd row -- "Business of the Year" Applied Business Systems, Lisa Ormsbee, Connie DiSalvo, Jim DiSalvo, Jason DiSalvo, Steve Samis;  "Geneseean of the Year" Margaret "Peggy" Lamb; "Industry of the Year" Muller Quaker Dairy, Karen Banker, Kevin Williams. "Geneseean of the Year" William "Bill" Schutt.

(Pictured above L to R) 1st row -- "Innovative Community Contribution of the Year" Merrill Lynch, Steve Tufts, Joshua Dent, John Riter; "Agricultural Business of the Year" Corcoran Custom Services, Stacy Corcoran, Bill Corcoran. "Special Service Recognition of the Year" Genesee Cancer Assistance, Inc., Dr. Kevin Mudd.

To purchase and view pictures contact: https://www.facebook.com/SteveOgnibenePhotography

Steve Samis - Applied Busniess Systems

Kevin Williams - Muller Quaker Dairy

Bill & Stacy Corcoran - Corcoran Custom Services

Steve Tufts, John Riter, Joshua Dent - Merrill Lynch

Joe Gerace, Carol Grasso, Toni Funke, Paul Figlow, Dr. Kevin Mudd, Ellen Bachorski together pictured for Genesee Cancer Assistance

Jay Gsell with Margaret "Peggy" Lamb - Geneseean of the Year

William "Bill" Schutt - Geneseean of the Year

More pictures on Steve Ognibene Photography's Facebook page.

February 24, 2015 - 10:24pm
posted by Lou DiToro in chamber of commerce, Chamber Awards, Muller Quaker.

This is the third in our series of profiles of the 2014 Chamber of Commerce Award winners. The awards will be presented at a dinner at the Clarion Hotel on Saturday.

When a manufacturer impacts a region economically like Muller Quaker Dairy has, that’s a big boost for the area. When that manufacturer also turns out to be an outstanding corporate citizen, then it should be recognized. And it has been. The Genesee Chamber of Commerce named Muller Quaker Business of the Year for 2014.

Muller Quaker Diary is the biggest dairy manufacturing plant to open in Genesee County in 55 years. It’s provided a huge boost economically to the region. It pumps as much as $150 million annually into the local dairy and fruit farms. That’s on top of the $206 million capital investment Muller Quaker made to build the giant production plant in the Ag Park location. Plus, Muller Quaker sources all milk for its yogurt locally.

Muller Quaker Boosts Local Economy

The facility also provided about 160 new jobs — all of which are at the computerized facility. With a new production line starting in the fall, Muller Quaker expects to add as many as 20 to 30 additional jobs to the plant’s payroll. This is in addition many jobs the facility has created in the community’s agriculture, hospitality, and business services sector.

“We have much more room to expand the plant,” says Kevin Williams (pictured), supply chain vice president, who has been with the company about three years. “We built facility so it could grow with our business. And we continue to innovate new and delicious products so we can do just that." 

The facility sits on 82 acres of land in the Ag Park and has three production lines that can produce more than 120,000 cups of yogurt per hour. It can accommodate up to eight production lines with room for future expansion. The Muller Quaker Dairy plant is the largest LEED-certified dairy manufacturing plant in the world.

Makes Impact in Community

In addition to stimulating the area's economy, Muller Quaker makes an impact in the community. Employees invest hundreds of hours annually in community activities, like participating in food drives and supporting the Salvation Army at Christmastime. Muller Quaker also supports local educational projects and gives facility tours for kids and residents.

“We’re involved in numerous community projects,” says Williams. “In fact, we encourage employees to go out into the community and contribute. Put simply, we get involved. And it’s our absolute pleasure to do so. It’s the way we like to operate.”

From a marketing standpoint, the production facility helps Muller Quaker compete in the $6.2 billion U.S. yogurt marketplace. It serves as the national production and distribution center for the Muller brand, which launched in select regional markets in 2012. Its products include Muller Corner®, Muller Greek Corner®, and Muller FruitUp™ varieties. 

The facility’s yogurt helps satisfy the increased demand for value-added dairy products in America, where per capita consumption of yogurt is generally less than half that of Europe. Per capita consumption in the United States has more than doubled in the past decade, according to an article in Food Business News. Retail sales in the United States are expected to approach $9.3 billion by 2017.

Joins Two Powerhouses

The Muller Quaker Dairy joins the complementary strengths of two powerhouse global companies. The Quaker Oats Company, a subdivision of PepsiCo, is among the world’s most recognized and trusted brands. The Theo Muller Group is one of Germany’s largest privately held dairy businesses. It’s also among Europe’s top yogurt producers, making yogurt and other products for more than 100 years.

The Muller Quaker Dairy stands poised to help its parent company dominate the growing yogurt market in the States. By boosting the region’s economy and helping out in the community, it’s increased the region’s optimism -- ample reason to name Muller Quaker the Business of the Year for 2014.

February 23, 2015 - 9:44pm

This is the first in our series of profiles of the 2014 Chamber of Commerce Award winners. The awards will be presented at a dinner at the Clarion Hotel on Saturday.

Applied Business Systems (ABS), owned and operated by Jim and Connie DiSalvo, took the dreary task of stuffing envelopes to new heights when they began their own business three decades ago. They saw a need for businesses to outsource "forms distribution" and it started from there.

Stuffing, addressing, and mailing thousands of letters is an onerous task, often requiring more staff time than many businesses can afford. So developing cost-effective means to reduce the burden of mailing seemed like a worthy enterprise in which to invest.

Today, ABS mails more than four million letters a year for local businesses and others across the country. It is the recipient of the 2014 Entrepreneurial Business of the Year Award from the Chamber of Commerce.

Located in the Harvester Avenue complex, it's another well-hidden success story here in Genesee County, said Paul Saskowski of Genesee County ARC.

ARC has worked with ABS for more than 20 years, and knows firsthand that ABS works hard to cut customer costs and deliver outstanding work on-time, Saskowski said, explaining why he nominated them.

“Mailing individual pieces to thousands of different customers seems like a daunting task,” Saskowski wrote in his nomination letter. “It used to be a secretary typing the paper, folding the paper, stuffing the envelope, addressing the envelope, sealing the envelope, applying postage and taking it to the post office. It hurts just to read the process…ABS decided to take on these tasks and provide that service to customers in the most cost-effective ways possible.”

Their innovation has made a tedious process less "hurtful."

“We’ve taken our knowledge of the forms and printing industry and applied that to our customer’s needs and paying points, and truly, with that type of relationship and partnership, we’ve been able to consistently provide our clients with a great finished piece based on what their business needs were,” said Vice President of Production Steve Samis.

Despite the huge volume forms they handle, ABS has built a great reputation. Saskowski attributes that in part to their emphasis on proper preparation and labeling, as well as their ability to effectively collaborate with clients.

“If the lowest cost comes out of sorting 60,000 pieces to 35 individual zip codes in that county, ABS gets it done,” Saskowski says. “When ARC needed to change their billing procedures for their trash and recycling business, the professionals at ABS helped smooth out the task of billing thousands of new customers."

Whether it's designing forms or logos, or making the database fit, ABS finds ways to meet their customers' needs.

An entrepreneurial spirit helps make that possible. The Disalvos have always had that, but they are probably better known to the community at large for having a lot of holiday spirit.

Each year, around the holidays, the couple treats more than 1,000 visitors to a spectacular light display, known community-wide as “The Lights on Fargo.”

At work or at home, the DiSalvos find ways to shine.

February 12, 2015 - 10:18am

As a 10-year-old paperboy in his hometown, Jim DiSalvo got a piece of advice from the Batavia Daily News publisher that he never forgot, and that guided him in his business career.

“If you work hard you will succeed,” Art Marshall, Sr. told him.

“All my life I thought about that,” says DiSalvo, the owner of Genesee County’s Entrepreneurial Business of the Year: Applied Business Systems (ABS). “And, I must have worked hard to get to where we are.”

ABS, owned and operated by Jim and Connie DiSalvo, has been a staple of the community for more than 30 years, but as DiSalvo himself puts it: “It is another well hidden success story here in Genesee County.” ABS is located out of sight, in the Harvester Ave. complex, where most people don’t even realize the company stuffs and mails more than four million letters per year. ABS provides forms distribution services to local businesses and businesses across the country.   

Anyone operating a business understands that stuffing, addressing, and mailing thousands of letters is a difficult task, and requires a larger workforce than many businesses can afford. DiSalvo saw the need to create a cost-effective solution, and so he founded ABS to reduce the burden of mailing.

The company’s dedication to innovation and cost reducing techniques resulted in a nomination for Entrepreneurial Business of the Year. The Genesee County ARC has worked with ABS for more than 20 years, and knows first-hand that ABS works hard to cut customer costs and deliver outstanding work on-time, which is why Paul Saskowski nominated them for the award.

“Mailing individual pieces to thousands of different customers seems like a daunting task,” wrote Saskowski in his nomination letter. “It used to be a secretary typing the paper, folding the paper, stuffing the envelope, addressing the envelope, sealing the envelope, applying potage and taking it to the post office. It hurts just to read the process…ABS decided to take on these tasks and provide that service to customers in the most cost effective ways possible.”   

When asked about the company’s innovations in forms distribution, Vice President of Production Steve Samis said, “We’ve taken our knowledge of the forms and printing industry and applied that to our customer’s needs and paying points, and truly, with that type of relationship and partnership, we’ve been able to consistently provide our clients with a great finished piece based on what their business needs were.”

ABS mails more than four million letters each year. Despite the huge volume of work, ABS has maintained a great reputation for on-time delivery, creative collaboration, and the lowest cost solutions available. Saskowski attributes their ability to provide low cost solutions to their unyielding dedication to proper preparation and labeling, as well as their ability to effectively collaborate with customers for on-time completion.

“If the lowest cost comes out of sorting 60,000 pieces to 35 individual zip codes in that county, ABS gets it done,” wrote Saskowski. “When ARC needed to change their billing procedures for their trash and recycling business, the processionals at ABS helped smooth out the task of billing thousands of new customers. From designing the forms, logos and making the database fit, ABS was able to offer solutions and deliver services.”

Clearly, this is a local business that understands their customer’s needs, and has the entrepreneurial spirit needed to assure them the lowest price. Moreover, ABS is active in the community and enjoys giving back. Steve Samis and Lisa Ormsbee are both active alumni of Leadership Genesee, a year-long workshop that unites business entities with the local community, and “encourages the leader within.” Each year, around the holidays, Jim and Connie DiSalvo treat more than 1,000 visitors to a spectacular light display, known community-wide as “The Lights on Fargo.” In this spirit of giving back, the Chamber of Commerce honors ABS with the Entrepreneur of the Year Award, and it is much deserved. 

 The 43rd Annual Chamber of Commerce Awards will be formally held on Saturday, February 28th at the Clarion Hotel on Park Road in Batavia, NY. 

February 21, 2014 - 7:04pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in Mary Pat Hancock, Chamber Awards.

All of the most important legislative accomplishments of the past 20 years -- the period Mary Pat Hancock served the 4th District -- are of "a piece," Hancock says.

In that time the Legislature paved the way for countywide water, created a comprehensive plan, a smart-growth plan, instituted farmland protection measures, turned the Industrial Development Agency into the Genesee County Economic Development Center and set the county on a path toward greater prosperity and stability.

None of those initiatives can really be considered separately from the others, Hancock said.

"You weave a fabric," Hancock said. "The different kind of things that go in and out and then you have a piece. But without that one strand or without those different threads, it just doesn't make anything. It falls apart."

Hancock was skeptical about running for the Legislature in 1992 when friends first approached her to fill the vacancy left by Steve Hawley's departure for the state Assembly.

She wasn't sure if she would have the time and if she was up to the task, but they persuaded, noting her with her school board experience, her study of governmental administration (school administration, specifically) and the fact that she would need to attend only one meeting a week. So she decided to give it a try.

It turned out she had to beat a primary challenger, and her election led to 20 years serving the people of Genesee County, the last decade as chairwoman of the Legislature.

All that service -- service that stretches back in Genesee County more than a decade prior to her election to the Legislature -- is why the Chamber of Commerce selected her to receive the Wolcott “Jay” Humphrey III Excellence in Community Leadership Award.

Hancock said she is humbled by the award because she knew Humphrey and how dedicated he was to Genesee County and how enthusiastic he was about improving the quality of life locally.

"When we were looking for somebody to be in charge of the IDA, he just found that task so important. I was one of the people on the committee to select the person and he came to me about it and I said we we were doing our best, and he said, 'no you don't understand.' "

Later, Hancock was on one of the annual agricultural tours, but she had taken her own car because she had to leave early. As she was leaving, Humphrey jumped into the passenger seat of the car and asked how the search was going for a new head of the IDA, what would become the GCEDC.

"He said, 'you're not taking this seriously enough,' He said, 'this is so important.' Then he gave me this whole thing about how it could impact our county and how we could have all of these industrial parks. He had it all right there in his mind and I thought, 'Oh, my, I hope I don't screw this up.' "

Genesee County has always been important to Hancock, as it was to her parents, who always maintained a home here even as her father's job -- a VP with the railroad -- took the family to Pittsburgh and Chicago.

"It's just such an extraordinary place. The people are extraordinary. The physical beauty of the county is just bar none."

Hancock was born in Pittsburgh, went to elementary school in Batavia. In middle school her family moved to Chicago. She got her degree in education from Northwestern University and then taught English and Art at a school Lake Forest, Ill.

After a couple of years of teaching, Hancock decided she wanted to get her master's degree and become a school counselor.

Her parents weren't too keen on the idea.

"My parent were very proud that I graduated from college, but they really didn't think it was necessary for me to go on and get a master's degree."

Even so, she managed a fellowship for the University of Buffalo, so neither she nor her parents had to pay for her graduate degree.

It was at UB that Mary Pat met Bill, whom she married in 1957. They would have four children: Billy, an educational counselor, Ann Marie, a nurse with a school district, Tom, a school psychologist, and Katherine, who works in early childhood education.

Bill received his dental degree the same day Hancock received her master's and the couple had their first child.

Hancock essentially took 20 years off from her career in education to raise her family.

Bill worked in public health service and the family moved to Chicago, New York City and Buffalo.  Bill had plans to become an orthodontist, but then decided maybe it would be better to open a private practice in Oakfield, so the family returned to Genesee County.

While raising her family in Batavia, Hancock got involved in the community. She ran for the library board. She served on the school district board and on the BOCES board.

Once the kids were grown, Hancock decided she wanted to do what she once trained to do, become a school counselor.

She had to be recertified, which turned out to be a lot more work than she expected, and she took classes at UB, RIT and Rochester so she could get up to speed as quickly as possible.

When there was an opening at Batavia Middle School for a counselor, she applied for the job, but when she showed up for the interview, she found that instead they were interviewing her for a counselor's job at the high school.

Hancock was a counselor at BHS for 20 years, a job, she said, that she loved.

"It was a great job. It was super. The children, the kids, the fact that you never had a dull day. If you were feeling kind of down, the people at the school, my gosh, they were such fun."

In the midst of her 20-year career at BHS, she was elected to the County Legislature, which worked out because even the Legislature's committee meetings are after the school day is done.

There was a sense in those early days on the Legislature, Hancock said, that the county wasn't as well organized as it could be. Issues were dealt with in a piecemeal manner. There was no plan.

That was exemplified by the County Airport.

"When I first got up there, there were some things we just constantly, constantly, constantly talked about meeting after meeting after meeting. One of them was the cost of the airport and (the) insignificant contribution it was making to our county. Some said just get rid of it because it was causing problems and losing money. More than that, it was just a wrangle and I thought this is no fun. It was just a wrangle."

Eventually, the airport went from money loser to money maker, but only after the county began to get organized, first under Chairman Roger Triftshauser, then under Hancock.

"We needed to take a deep breath and focus. I was not the only one who felt that way. It was just such a muddle."

The first big item to focus on was bringing countywide water here in cooperation with the Monroe County Water Authority.

Asked if that wasn't just a big political mess, Hancock said, well, yes, it was political, but you've got to understand ...

"There were a lot of people, a lot of entities, a lot of towns, villages and the city, involved. The people were doing the work representing their particular spots, their towns, their villages, their city, so of course there were politics because all politics are local. Those individual areas wanted to make sure they were well represented. They wanted to make sure the deal wasn't going to be lethal for them."

While the water deal was still being hammered out, Triftshauser retired and Hancock was elected chair.

That was quite a turbulent time to take over such a big job, Hancock said.

"That was an exciting period of time. When Roger left, it was scary to take over because there was so much going on, but it was also exciting."

It was at this time that the county was tackling a comprehensive plan -- which also involved all the towns and villages and city -- a smart-growth plan, which goes along with countywide water, farm protection and the creation of industrial parks, and transforming the IDA into the GCEDC.

Again, all pieces of the same cloth.

"It really works when you are short of resources if you're long on planning so you can protect yourself from some big mistakes."

Among the accomplishments during Hancock's tenure that she says she's proud of is the county taking over the Office for the Aging from the city, merging the public health departments of Orleans and Genesee counties and renovations to the nursing home.

Hancock's had a pretty busy 10 years. She became chair around the same time Bill died. She's thrown herself into her work.

"This honor (the Humphrey Award) is just something above and beyond anything I ever expected," Hancock said. "I I don't think I deserve it. I went to work every day because I wanted to go. I was in a hurry every morning to get to work because there was so much to do. That was a treat and it was a reward to do that."

Now, Hancock said, it is time to take care of herself. She's enrolled in Tai Chi and Yoga at the Y. She's looking forward to riding her horse some more. She's painting her basement. She's watching the Winter Olympics (something she wouldn't necessarily have had time for in the past). She plans to travel. She plans to visit her grandchildren more. There's a lot she wants to do.

"I would like to live a thoughtful life. Before my retirement, it was getting to where I was just doing one thing right after another. So many plans were put on hold. There were so many things I had to cancel. I would like to make sure the time I have is productively spent."

Which means a plan. Mary Pat Hancock would never be without a plan. It's how you weave the fabric of life.

"I'm a great planner," Hancock said. "I like to plan. It's time for my own comprehensive plan."

February 21, 2014 - 4:41pm

It's easy to spot customers who have never been in Adam Miller Toy and Bicycle. They tend to point at things and ooh and aah -- a lot. That's because the inventory is comprised of an amazing array of classic toys and amusements not usually found in one place, certainly not in Big Box stores.

Spinning tops, a stuffed menagerie that can include bats, otters, zebras, squirrels, not just bears and bunnies, and models, kites, puzzles, bikes, trikes, and metal cars of the future as envisioned in the Atomic Age. Games anyone? Remember Mystery Date? Stratego? Or SNL's beleaguered Mr. Bill? Cap guns, authentic Silly Putty?

But more important than retro toys that don't require batteries or electricity is the sublime customer service and personal attention that is more or less lost in the nexus of retail commerce today.

Reason enough, perhaps, that this 96-year-old institution on Center Street in Downtown Batavia is the 2013 Retail Business of the Year, so designated by members of the Genesee County Chamber of Commerce.

"I think it's cool," said owner John Roche of the unexpected accolade. "I guess being nominated by a friend of ours (attorney Michael Rivers) and getting people to vote for us -- it's a task and can't be the easiest thing to do. But I think it's cool. It's a good thing."

So is the toy biz in general, he says, because "It's not a real job. I guess it's one of those jobs where you go to work and it's not work. You have fun and you never work a day in your life."

He and his wife, Cathy, bought the business in 2002.

The enterprise began as a "wheel goods store" in 1918 owned by Walter J. Davis. The building was constructed at 8 Center St. in 1929. Back then, people went to places for specific services; no one-stop-shops existed. There was, say, the baker, the blacksmith, the dry goods merchant, the green grocer, and a place where items with wheels were purchased and repaired. Davis also sold a few toys and tobacco products. He sharpened ice skates, lawn mower blades, and even strung tennis rackets to keep the business running.

In 1946, Adam F. Miller bought the Davis Wheel Goods store, which became Adam Miller Wheel Goods. In the mid-'50s, he put up the distinctive neon sign hanging out front. The business expanded in the 1960s to include toys and hobbies "for kids of all ages" and a year-round full-service repair shop.

Adam retired in the '70s and handed the business over to his children, Joyce Masse and Gary Miller, who ran it for 25 years during which time it garnered the reputation of being "The Neatest Store in Town."

The neon sign was restored in 1990. Long gone was the antiquated term "Wheel Goods" (although the legal corporate name remains Davis Wheel Goods).

Adam continued to visit regularly to make sure all was running smoothly. He died in 2000 at age 90. Subsequently, his children decided to retire themselves and the business was sold to the Roches, of Corfu. The families had known each other for years and were associates in the bicycle industry.

The tradition of quality customer service continued seamlessly.

Moreover, "You don't have to deal with someone who can't make change if the register goes down."

They gladly do special orders, offer free gift wrapping, free layaway, and help with selecting the right gift or choosing the best bicycle.

"Ninety percent of our customers are loyal, repeat customers. They tell their friends, tell everybody about us. That's who I have to thank are these customers for keeping us around so long."

And he doesn't mean just his customers, but also those who've been patrons for 30 or 40 years.

"They bring their kids and grandkids and show them what a real toy store is."

Being available to chat and help select something special results in practically zero returns. They had two after last Christmas.

"I like to tell people, if you buy something and they don't like it -- keep it for yourself, and they often do."

The challenge in bringing in new customers is overcoming the assumption by some that because Adam Miller is a small, family-owned business it's therefore pricey.

"Once they come in here they get it. They can see that's not the case. It's just getting them in the door. We don't have a million dollar advertising budget, so for us, it's definitely by word of mouth that you get people in."

And when they walk through the door, the fun begins.

"You see the smiles on their faces, or the memories that come back to them that make them smile and have good thoughts."


February 21, 2014 - 9:00am
posted by Howard B. Owens in Bethany, Stafford, Chamber Awards, Geneseean of the Year.

Metal can be molded, shaped and welded together so that it becomes something stronger.

So can the youth of our community.

In a manner of speaking, Tim Adams does both.

As owner of Adams Welding and Manufacturing in Stafford, Adams makes and repairs farm equipment and commercial products.

As a community member who grew up on a local farm, Adams remains deeply committed to 4H and donates hundreds of hours of his time each year to the organization.

Adams grew up in 4H and even after turning 19, he remained involved.

"You don't realize right away the impact 4H has on you and the values it instills in you until later on," Adams said. "It's not that you're out of 4H at 19 -- you don't realize at 19 all the values that you've taken from 4H until later on. This last year really hit home that without people who are willing to volunteer there's not going to be organizations like 4H."

This commitment to our community, both as a volunteer and a local business owner, is the reason Adams will receive a Geneseean of the Year Award from the Chamber of Commerce on Saturday night.

"I'm surprised to be getting the award," Adams said. "That's not why I did it. I didn't do it to get an award. I do what I do to help 4H. It's truly an honor to get it, but I never thought what I did was that much more than anybody does. I just did what I did to get it done."

The son of Mike and Debbie Adams, Tim grew up on their farm in East Bethany, where he developed an appreciation for farm equipment that is in good working order.

"I was pretty meticulous about it," he said.

At first, the Adams farm was a hog farm (later adding replacement heifers) and Tim got involved with the 4H Swine Club, where he met the late Ron Komer, whom he said was a big influence on his life and his view of leadership.

"He was always there to help you if you needed something," Adams said.

In high school, Adams was taking a class at BOCES and a classmate, Jake Pocock, asked him if he'd ever tried welding. He hadn't. Jake had him put on the protective gear and weld two pieces of metal together.

 "All it took was one stick rod and I was hooked," Adams said.

Two years of welding classes at BOCES and two years of more study at Alfred State and Adams had a career, and with his connections to the ag community in Genesee County, Adams had a place to start to build a business.

In early 2012, Tim Adams and his brother Scott (Adams Trucking) took a big step together for the growth of both of their businesses and built a shop in Stafford on Route 5.

Adams' involvement with 4H includes leading the Swine Club, conducting the tractor safety courses, serving on various committees and taking charge on some key fundraising efforts.

This past year, he helped organize -- with John Duyssen, Keith Carlson, Heather Weber -- the Swine Club's first pulled pork BBQ, which Adams believes is the most successful fundraiser in the history of Genesee County 4H.

This was also the first year the Swine Club sold a club pig at the County Fair's livestock sale.

Among the most cherished contributions Adams makes to 4H is teaching the tractor safety classes. He took his first class from Bob Mullen at age 14 and has been involved in tractor safety ever since.

He said it's such a critical class for farm kids and does a lot to prepare youngsters to help out around their family farms.

"Being involved in 4H teaches responsibility, it teaches community service, it teaches you to take responsibility for an animal and be accountable, and it teaches a lot of life skills," Adams said.

He is also a member of a welding trade association, the Farm Bureau and has helped raise money for Crossroads House.

All of this community involvement has inspired Scott Adams to get more involved.

"It's something to see somebody actually carrying off and pulling off as much effort as he does," said Scott Adams, who's chairing the fair committee this year. "He actually cares about what he does. He goes that extra mile to get something done. From what he does with 4H, he's got me more involved with the fair and the ag society. He's motivated me to get involved more in the community. It's an eye-opening experience that one person can make a difference."

Clearly, making a difference is important to Tim Adams. He wants to make a difference in lives of young people the way people like Komer and Mullen did with him. Maybe today's 4H members will remember what Tim Adams did for them.

"I hope they look back like I did 10 years after I was out and look back and say, 'Hey, he was helping make me the person I am today,' " Adams said. "I'm hoping that's what they'll say."

February 20, 2014 - 2:30pm
posted by Alecia Kaus in batavia, Chamber Awards, Geneseean of the Year.

Volunteerism is a way of life for Laurie Mastin.

It is a way of life made possible because of two things. Her employer and her family.

Laurie has been working with National Grid (Niagara Mohawk) for almost 35 years. She started as a steno clerk in Dunkirk.

After transferring to the Batavia Office 31 years ago, and taking the necessary math and electrical theory courses needed to become a consumer representative, she says her life has come full circle.

"I believe in paying back," Mastin says. "That's how I was raised."

Her volunteer work in Genesee County all began with her kids, she says.

"In the 1990s I was the soccer mom."

With three boys playing in the Pavilion Amature Soccer Association and being heavily involved in Boy Scouts and a regular volunteer at St. Mary's in Pavilion, Laurie and her husband, Randy, were always on the go outside of their everyday jobs.

Laurie and Randy have been married for 31 years and their sons are, Gregory, 30, Andrew, 28, and Michael, 25.

Laurie, who is originally from Fillmore in Alleghany County, met her husband at the age of 15. They became friends after working a Rotary Camp in Pike with their fathers. They never dated until they were 21. They married at 22, and Laurie had their first son at age 23. Randy is originally from Dansville.

When they married, they decided that Pavilion would be a great place to settle down and live because it was located in between Randy's job in Dansville and Laurie's job in Batavia.

In 2002, Laurie's employer asked her if she would like to go through Leadership Genesee.

It's a 12-month course that works on team building and networking. She says this course was a pivotal, life changing time for her. It was also a springboard for Mastin.

"It makes you look at what is going on in your community. It makes you look at the mirror and at your strengths and weaknesses and what you want to change and how to get there."

Mastin says she did not feel very outgoing at the time and did not like to go outside of her comfort zone.

After completing Leadership Genesee, Mastin says she has taken some chances professionally and is a lot more confident. She joined the steering committee for Leadership Genesee and was the editor for their newsletter and helped with curriculum planning.

A classmate sponsored Laurie for Rotary in February of 2003.

"Rotary does so many things -- it's not just having lunch once a week, we raise a lot of money that goes right back into the community," Mastin says. "We fund 15 to 20 organizations for different grants they ask for on an annual basis."

Mastin is currently the Rotary board secretary and says over the years the Rotary Genesee County Nursing Home Christmas Party has become her favorite event. The event is in its 93rd year and began when the home was located in Bethany. 

All the nursing home residents who are able to attend are brought to the atrium and Bill Pitcher and the Ghost Riders entertain everyone while each resident in the facility gets a Christmas present. Mastin says, "Each time I've gone to this event and had someone say 'this is the only present I got this year, thank you so much.' "

Mastin has also been involved in the past four Rotary theatrical shows and is an active Rotary chairperson for the Youth Exchange Selection, Girls basketball tournament, Oktoberfest, Christmas at the County nursing home and the United Way Day of Caring.

In recognition of her tremendous Batavia Rotary volunteer efforts, Mastin was awarded the Paul Harris Fellow Award.

Membership in Rotary then led to her being asked to be on the board for the Genesee Orleans Regional Arts Council (GO ART!). She spent two three-year terms on the board and is very proud of the revamping of the GO ART! building at Main and Bank streets in Donwtown Batavia in 2005.

"It was a huge undertaking," Mastin says. "Getting the money and figuring out how to get it done, it was very meaningful." 

During her term at GO ART!, Mastin was then recruited as a Junior Achievment presenter at John Kennedy School in Batavia. She volunteered in the kindergarten class for seven years.

In 2008, Mastin was the recipient of the YWCA Fabulous Female Award. The award is given out each year to a female in the community who is dedicated to eliminating racism, empowering women and promoting peace, justice and freedom and dignity for all people.

In addition to being a volunteer for education, the arts and business, Laurie shared her volunteer skills with those who are less fortunate in the community.

Laurie provided leadership to the Genesee-Orleans Ministry of Concern by serving on its board of directors from 2009- 2011. The Ministry of Concern works with people to provide emergency services for the poor and encourages needy members of the community to become independent and self-sufficient members of society.

When Laurie's mother became ill in 2011, she decided to step down with the Ministry of Concern and devote her time to taking care of her mom in Fillmore.

Mastin lost her mother this past year. Her 89-year-old father, who is also a Rotarian, still lives in Fillmore.

When Mastin's boss, Paul Kazmierczak, nominated her for Geneseean of the Year, she says she felt she did not deserve it this year.

"I am just doing Rotary now," Mastin says. "I feel uncomfortable about getting this award. I have worked with so many people on all these different avenues."

Kazmierczak says, "Laurie Mastin is a volunteer 'leader' who keeps on giving to all facets of Genesee County. She is a special person and a unique asset and ambassador."

"People are doing the work here in Genesee County," Mastin says. "I think that's what sets us apart from other counties across the state. Other counties don't see the collaboration we have here with local governments and economic developement.

"We have infrastructure here. We can disagree on things, but come to a table and hash things out and not stonewall things and that is how things get done here."

Over the last 31 years National Grid has allowed Laurie to do her job largely unsupervised, but if she needs help her bosses are always there.

"They kind of let me do what I do here to be successful not just in my job, but in the community, and I support that. I am very grateful." 

Photo by Howard Owens

February 20, 2014 - 2:30pm
posted by Bonnie Marrocco in Business, Chamber Awards, bergen.

Its expertise in agri-business, along with its high quality standards, has made the the family-run company, Bonduelle, a household name in Europe for canned, frozen and fresh vegetables. It has 47 plants around the world and sells in 100 countries.

Headquartered in France, Bonduelle is a worldwide market leader in prepared vegetables. The recent addition to Western New York has been named the Genesee County Chamber of Commerce Agricultural Business of the Year.

“We are proud to be recognized by the community,” Byron Facility Manager Jim Newcomb said. “Our company is pleased with the local grower base, the skill of the employees and the opportunity to market in the U.S.”

Bonduelle purchased two Genesee County plants in 2012 from the former Allen food processing facilities in Bergen and Oakfield, along with a plant in Brockport. They retained all of the existing full-time staff and employ nearly 800 people in the United States, 400 of whom are full-time workers.

The Bergen plant deals with peas, green beans, sweet corn and carrots, while Oakfield processes green, lima and wax beans, along with butternut squash.

Both locations will produce more than half of the 257 million pounds of frozen, ready-to-eat, vegetables that Bonduelle’s American operations are projected to sell in 2014. The Brockport packaging facility will handle 130 million pounds of processed vegetables.

Bonduelle posts more than $2.5 billion in annual revenues and has invested $1.7 million into the three New York facilities in its first year, upgrading equipment, improving training, as well as ensuring that only the best produce is purchased from family farms within the area.

They work with a network of local growers and the Bergen and Oakfield plants harvest most of their vegetables from within a 30-mile zone. Growing crops in close proximity to freezing facilities allows them to preserve maximum freshness. Since vegetables only travel a short distance from field to plant, they’re frozen just a few hours after harvest, capturing freshness at their peak of maturity.

Bonduelle’s operations are supplied by local growers who are part of more than 130,000 acres contracted by the company, and its team of experts ensure thorough control over every step in the food processing chain, from seeding to packaging.

People are the driving force of Bonduelle. Therefore, it's important to provide them with opportunities to upgrade and hone their skills. Whether it's in farming, production, quality assurance, sales or another sector, the company credits its team members as the company's driving force.

They include longtime Bergen facility employee Newcomb, who started there in 1971 when it was CB Foods, pushing pea carts, and who has worked his way up as the company has changed hands several times. As previously noted, he's now a Bonduelle facility manager.

“I’m excited to be working here, which is hard to believe since I’ve been here since 1971. Bonduelle has invested capital dollars into the facility, bringing money into the community and we are definitely on an upswing,” Newcomb said.

The company has been in the frozen, ready-to-eat vegetables business since 1970. Products are marketed under private-brand labels for U.S. food distributors and supermarket chains, such as Wegmans store-brand frozen vegetables. Its sales team operates on the major retail trade and food services networks.

Bonduelle’s plants, equipped with modern technology, enable flexibility and greater production capacity. The company is poised to grow and increase volume. Their Northeast operations are a prime focus and that means expansion for Genesee County plants.

“We are currently at about 80-percent capacity, which is up from the 65- to 70-percent the plant ran in the past, but we plan to increase capacity even more, as well as introduce new crops,” Newcomb said.

File Photos. Photos by Howard Owens.

February 19, 2014 - 2:30pm

The Bergen Business and Civic Organization was created in 1896 as the Businessman's Club and was reorganized in 1969 to include not only women, but all civic-minded citizens. The club currently has 48 business members and 15 civic members from Bergen and the surrounding communities and they are dedicated to the betterment of not only Bergen, but Genesee County as a whole.

In 2014 they will celebrate the 45th anniversary of the reorganization of the group and the 25th anniversary of the Bergen Park Festival. This family-oriented alcohol-free, community event includes a parade, car cruise, food, craft vendors, a book sale, a bounce house, zoo animals, pony rides, games, contests, live music and culminates with fireworks. All proceeds from the event go back to the village and town parks.

The Genesee County Chamber of Commerce is honoring the Bergen Business and Civic Association with the Special Service Recognition of the Year Award.

Anne Sapienza is the current president of BBCA and she has been a member for 30 years.

“I, along with the membership, am very honored to be recognized by the Genesee County Chamber of Commerce,” Sapienza said. “Volunteers do so because there is a feeling of self-satisfaction in a job well done. The team effort necessary to have an organization continually put forth positive community programs is huge and although not essential, a pat on the back is always welcome. I believe this award has brought some awareness to our organization and hopefully it will entice area residents and businesses to join."

Sapienza became involved because it was an organization devoted to the whole community.

"We support school events, veterans, hospice care and more. We have sponsored the annual Easter Egg Hunt at Hickory Park in the Village of Bergen for over 35 years," Sapienza said.

The BBCA publishes the Bergen Directory every two years, which allows businesses to advertise locally and promote their services. They also offer tours of businesses so that citizens can learn about their operations and how they affect the community.

The group hosts a recognition dinner every year, which honors five or six individuals, businesses and organizations that have contributed to the community in a positive way.

The BBCA organized the 200th Birthday Celebration of the Town of Bergen with a dedicated garden and time capsule, along with special events at the Park Festival of 2013.

The club donates to the the Byron-Bergen Public Library, Masons' Christmas gift baskets, Genesee County Fair, Genesee County Veterans Services and Byron-Bergen Central Schools.

As is the case with volunteer organizations, although there are many members, only a core group of longtime members regularly attend meetings and assist with programs.

“Although the Town and Village of Bergen have been very supportive and assist with different projects, we always encourage new members and younger members to join as well,” Sapienza said.

Meetings are held the third Monday of the month at 13 S. Lake Ave. in Bergen at noon and everyone is welcome to attend.

Photo by Howard Owens. Clockwise: President Anne Sapienza (white sweater), Secretary Charlie Cook, Treasurer Maria Rowland, and Vice-President Michele Smith.

February 19, 2014 - 8:00am

Alex's Place has been serving mouth-watering ribs, succulent prime rib, perfectly grilled steaks and fresh seafood, along with a blend of American steakhouse specialties and Italian classics to satisfied guests for 25 years.

The winner of the the NY Award at the Taste of Buffalo, the Democrat & Chronicle's Best of Rochester Award, Best Ribs at the Art of Ribs in Lewiston and the Best Ribs at the Roc City Ribfest for the last four years running, Alex's Place is the Genesee County Chamber of Commerce 2013 Service Business of the Year.

Owner Matthew Gray is humbled by the recognition and credits his employees with the success of the restaurant.

“My staff of 50, including an executive chef, eight cooks, four managers and a multitude of servers, bussers and hostesses are the ones who make the restaurant successful every single day,” Gray said. “When I took over the restaurant in 2007, it was an easy transition for me because it was already run so well by the staff.”

Alex's Place has built a loyal following by serving delicious food and providing excellent service. That winning recipe is key to their strategy for growth as they build upon the restaurant's reputation and recruit new customers in Buffalo, Rochester and beyond.

Since Gray, along with his business partner Matthew Boyd, purchased the restaurant, there has been major growth in all areas of the business, including sales. Gray, who handles the marketing, has aggressively marketed and advertised the business by participating in events like the Taste of Buffalo and Roc City Rib Fest. Billboard advertisements along the Thruway have brought customers into the community from all over Western New York.

His joint venture with more than 80 grocery stores throughout the region to sell Alex's Heat-N-Eat Take Home Ribs has been a huge success and has brought more customers into the restaurant and into the community. Their ribs are now available nationwide through their Web site at http://alexsribs.com as well.

The Curbside To Go service that began in 2009 has brought in customers who don't want the traditional sit-down restaurant experience.

Located at 8322 Park Road in the Town of Batavia, the small building started out as a “track” stop for Batavia Downs racers and players in 1988 as a one-room eatery offering classic comfort food. As it grew in popularity, the building became a 100-seat restaurant with an open-kitchen design, yet it has retained the comfortable and cozy atmosphere that diners have come to love.

There are 50 full and part-time staff who serve between 2,500-3,000 guests each week. Some of them have been there since Alex's Place started.

"I have a handful of staff that have been here for 20 years or more," Gray said. "One of my servers, Kelly McDonald, has been here for 26 years. That says something about the business, it's like family here."

Alex's Place is also dedicated to being a good neighbor and actively supporting the community. Last year they held fundraisers for a number of charities, including Hospice and the Russell Bugbee Memorial Culinary Scholarship.

Last April the staff had a fundraiser in which all the servers donated half of their tips from a busy Saturday night to the Justice for Children Advocacy Center, raising more than $2,500.

They support several nonprofit groups, including the WNY Aviation Camp, St. Joseph's School, the City of Batavia Community Garden and the Business Education Alliance. Alex's Place was awarded the 2013 Business Partner of the Year by the BEA. Managers are active members of Leadership Genesee and participate in the United Way Day of Caring as well.

“We are committed to getting the word out that Batavia is a destination for food and entertainment that is worth driving to,” Gray said.

By using a combination of radio, TV, newspaper, billboard and online advertising, as well as working with festivals in Buffalo and Rochester, 60 percent of Alex's guests are now from outside of Genesee County.

Photos by Howard Owens

April 13, 2013 - 11:30pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in Business, Chamber Awards.

The Genesee County Chamber of Commerce held a gala at the Clarion Hotel this evening to honor its 2012 award winners.

Above, Barb Toal accepts an award on behalf of Friends of the Batavia Peace Garden.

Jim Neider accepting his Genesean of the Year Award.

The award winners, Lois Gerace, Jim Neider, Jeremy Liles, Tim Call, Karen Green, Carol Grasso and Barb Toal.

Below, our stories about the winners:

To purchase prints of these photos, click here.

April 12, 2013 - 11:24pm
posted by Billie Owens in Chamber Awards, lois gerace.

This is the last of a series of articles highlighting the winners of the Genesee County Chamber of Commerce awards for 2012. The awards gala is Saturday evening at the Clarion Hotel.

It’s clear when you talk to Lois Gerace for any length of time, why she’s a successful businesswoman and such an asset to Genesee County. Her ability to connect with people, her sincerity and genuine niceness are readily apparent. She’s also a real lady with a fun sense of humor.

A natural born real estate broker who's been in the game for more than 37 years, she also volunteers for a number of nonprofits and worthy causes.

Lois is one of two Genesseans of the Year selected for 2012 by the Genesee County Chamber of Commerce. (Jim Neider is the other honoree.)

“It’s a really, really humbling experience because I know of so many who’ve come before me who’ve done more than I have,” Gerace said.

Born in Alexander and a graduate of Alexander High School, she got a job as a secretary in Batavia after graduation and married Joe Gerace in 1960. They have three children.

When the kids were little, selling real estate gave her flexible work hours to care for them as well as aging relatives.

It was what she chose to do after the Trailways Bus Diner they bought in 1961 – where Coffee Culture is now – became history.

“They (city officials) came in and said ‘you’re done’ – we were in Phase One of the disaster that was urban renewal.”

The early phase merchants didn’t get any compensation either. They just had to go figure something out.

So the road eventually led to real estate and then in 1986, she and Joe bought Bob Harris Realty. The firm’s name was already well established, easy to pronounce and remember, so they kept it.

The business grew because her real estate knowledge and great service impressed customers, who in turn recommended the agency to their friends and families.

The hallmarks of dedication and personal attention were instilled in her agents and staff. As a team, they’ve weathered the ups and downs of the market without ever losing sight of the importance of friendly, hometown service when people are making a life-changing investment like buying a home.

Lois has also kept investing in the business, keeping it up to date with computer technology, a Web site of information and services for customers, and in creative advertising.

Being out in the community, being involved with charity is good for business, too.

For about 20 years, she has been a key figure in raising funds for Genesee Cancer Assistance, along with her husband, who himself is a past recipient of Geneseean of the Year.

“It’s local – it’s based here and helps people with their co-pays, for example, and it has low overhead.”

Each year in April, Genesee Cancer Assistance holds its popular spaghetti dinner fundraiser. She gets in the kitchen and does whatever is needed, including cooking, right alongside Joe, who is renowned for his Italian fare.

Then in June, there’s the organization’s big Festival of Hope at Dwyer Stadium.

A golf tournament is another fundraiser she is part of for the Association of Retarded Citizens – ARC.

And she’s on the local board of Habitat for Humanity.

“It helps families that may not be able to afford to buy or fix up a home, and it helps the community by sprucing up homes that are run down.”

Plus, she serves on the city’s Assessment Board of Review – a grievance committee that tries to help people who dispute their assessments.

There are no retirement plans in the works. She’s just going to keep up the good works.

April 12, 2013 - 11:18pm
posted by Billie Owens in Chamber Awards, jim neider.

This is one of a series of articles highlighting the winners of the Genesee County Chamber of Commerce awards for 2012. The awards gala is Saturday evening at the Clarion Hotel.

From 1968-70, James Neider served in the Army and was stationed in Germany. Today he is a retired elementary school teacher whose greatest satisfaction is serving the veterans of Genesee County.

His tireless efforts and devotion to his cause have earned him the honor of the Genesee County Chamber of Commerce’s selection as one of two 2012 Genesseans of the Year (Lois Gerace is also being honored).

Jim, who’s a member of Vietnam Veterans of America, knows firsthand that sometimes the toughest tasks are also the most rewarding. In his case, he is deeply moved by the appreciation of veterans’ families when their fallen heroes are given a proper funeral.

“They get their honors, they get their taps and they get their American flag," Neider said. "A lot of times it’s people we know. I’ve been the pallbearer for a number of friends. It’s tough. I’m proud of getting veterans the help they need.”

As with many volunteers, his involvement in veterans’ causes started out casually.

Initially, it was exclusively through the American Legion, which he joined somewhat hastily after being approached by a commander at a meeting of local magistrates. (Neider was a Town of Batavia justice in the mid-‘80s.)

He went to one Legion meeting, then four, and more.

“My father, who died when I was 13, was very much involved in things and he always said if you’re going to live in a community, you’ve got to give back to it…I realized that those of us who came back whole and alive were obligated to help those who didn’t and that sort of got me on this path.”

Neider, a long-time Batavian, expanded his volunteerism after retiring from 30 years of teaching fifth- and sixth-graders.

He wondered what he should do with the rest of his life and it turns out the married father of two grown daughters found plenty to keep him busy.

One Memorial Day, Hal Kreter was swamped with observance rites and Jim helped out. Kreter is a retired Marine Corps master sargeant and director of the local Veterans Services Center.

“That’s how I first got involved in (doing veterans’ funerals)– and it just sort of took off.”

He has served in many capacities for the Genesee County American Legion, Glenn S. Loomis American Legion Post #332, the Genesee Veterans Support Network, and played a significant role in resurrecting the Joint Veterans Council, which in turn led to the creation of a Joint Veterans Honor Guard.

In addition, he is a liaison working with federal officials in the plan to bring a National Veterans Cemetery to Western New York, specifically Pembroke.

“Genesee County is the most veteran-friendly county in New York State,” he says proudly. “We’re the only county in the state that has a VA Medical Center, a Veterans Home and an assisted living facility on the same grounds.”

Add to that a Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder Clinic and a Women’s Health Clinic and it’s clear that vets are highly valued here.

At this point in his life, he’s 66 years old, his greatest desire is more participation by younger men and women, veterans and non-veterans alike, in support of those who served and are serving our country.

The veterans who currently advocate for the issues that affect their lives are getting older and more people need to step up and carry the torch, Neider said.

“If the younger veterans don’t get involved, they may not have the benefits that we have as older veterans. Those benefits aren’t carved in stone."

April 11, 2013 - 11:13pm
posted by Billie Owens in batavia, Business, Oliver's Candies, Chamber Awards.

This is one of a series of articles highlighting the winners of the Genesee County Chamber of Commerce awards for 2012. The awards gala is Saturday evening at the Clarion Hotel.

Whether it's the salty, sweet perfection of Cashew Glaze, colorful Christmas Ribbon Candy or the unique regional favorite Sponge Candy, Oliver's offers treats that are handmade, high quality and tasty.

For 81 years now, the Batavia landmark has built a loyal following that, aided by a robust online presence, today includes customers everywhere from Irondequoit to Korea, France to Corfu. Oliver's Candies, LLC, is the Genesee County Chamber of Commerce 2012 Business of the Year.

Located at 211 W. Main St., the Swiss-chalet-style building is where founder Joe Oliver lived and operated his candy shop. It had add-ons built in the '50s, '70s and major upgrades a couple of years after John and Sheila Quincey bought it in 1998. Sheila's son, Jeremy Liles, came on board in 2001 and is general manager.

"It's exciting being named Business of the Year and we appreciate the recognition of other business people," Liles said.

He credits his parents and staff, past and present, with Oliver's continued success.

"I didn't build this business to where it is today," Liles said. "My parents took a business that was doing OK in the '90s -- it was surviving -- but they just made it boom. They put their own money into it. They said this is something that can really grow and do a lot."

In 2000, the candy-making facility was completely revamped. The size of the retail store was tripled -- now it's about 3,000-square-feet -- and the size of the kitchen was doubled. There are no ovens. All the candy is made using commercial-grade, air-induction stoves and giant copper kettles. In 2002, "a full-blown ice cream parlor" was cranking out cones of ice cream blended especially for Oliver's.

Making candy isn't like running a restaurant. Although goods are being made fresh all the time, the process is more like manufacturing and can be done in shifts. And there's a shelf life, unlike what comes to a cafe table hot on a dinner plate.

But as with restaurants, running a successful candy operation requires "a lot of devotion." And the toil and talent of a capable staff.

"Those guys in the kitchen make it happen," said Liles, who is 38 and the father of three. "They're the backbone of the business."

A number of employees have spent a good chunk of their lives working at Oliver's.

Bob Pacer, with about 34 years of service, and Bonnie Battaglia, with about 33, both retired earlier this year. Their knowledge of candy and customers and their skills are no doubt sorely missed.

Then there's retail manager Diana Cuttita, with 20-plus years, and Beth Diegelman, 33-plus years.

"Beth can hand-temper chocolate," said Liles, with a little awe in his voice. "I can't do that, a machine can. But her hands are just cold enough to be able to get just the right consistency by hand."

It takes years to learn that kind of stuff. In fact, it takes about 10 years to become a master candy maker and it's typically learned through apprenticeship.

Ron Drock, who worked at Oliver's for 51 years, learned from his predesessor and he taught current master candy maker and longtime employee Doug Pastecki. Adam Horton is the assistant candy maker learning all he can from Doug.

There are currently about 15 full-time staff people and 15 part-timers, including seasonal workers, high school and college students, and crews for nights, weekends and summer.

"Thank God for them," Liles says, noting that they get to hone some practical math skills like counting back change, converting ounces to pounds or the fact that there's three teaspoons in one tablespoon.

As for increasing sales, Liles says two factors are key (A) consistent store hours and (B) having a successful online shopping site.

"We're open from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., seven days a week, and we're only closed on Christmas Day and Easter Sunday. If you're not open, how can you sell?"

Their online sales have soared. Online is a great way to expand sales without going the brick-and-mortar route.

In addition, they are selling favorites like Merry Mints, French Creams, Sponge Candy and Cashew Glaze wholesale to national catalog order companies, something which has "become huge" for them.

In terms of challenges, besides small business depressors like high taxes and  minimum wage increases, commodity fluctuations can have an impact on them. Higher prices for sugar and cocoa, for instance, are somewhat offset by product-line diversity -- no-added sugar products, savory snack mixes, and candies that don't require chocolate.

"If something happens on the Ivory Coast because of politics, it can affect us because that's where our cocoa is coming from. Normally it's not a problem because the United States imports so much of it; we can get our hands on it. But we're not as big as Hershey's. They have their own plantations. We depend on small growers.

"So if our costs shoot up, we're not like the gas station across the street -- we can't raise and lower our prices all the time. We (small business candy makers) have set a standard -- we're the same price as anybody else in Western New York."

"Some people don't understand that and they go in Oliver's and say 'This is expensive. I can get this cheaper at Walmart.' But it's really a different ball game altogether. We're dealing with really high quality products, no preservatives, fresh made. There's a huge difference. I think people realize that and that is why our customer base is what it is and growing.

"I think people are acquiring the taste for finer chocolates, finer wines, whatever, and (the trend of) Shop Local."

And Oliver's does shop local whenever possible, whether it's buying dairy products from Oatka, kitchen wares from Batavia Restaurant Supply, or seasonal produce from Harrington's and farmer's markets.

Liles is encouraged by Batavia's potential and what lies on the horizon and says the future looks sweet. Things already are at Oliver's.

Subscribe to The Batavian - Local Matters

Copyright © 2008-2022 The Batavian. All Rights Reserved. Privacy Policy | Terms of Service

blue button

News Break