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Culinary arts students impress at annual Celebrate Ag Dinner

By Press Release
boces culinary arts ag dinner
Chef Tracy Burgio, left, and some of the Culinary Arts students who prepared and served the meal at the Celebrating Ag Dinner in Alexander on Thursday.
Photo by Howard Owens. 

Press Release:

The Annual Celebrate Agriculture Dinner took place on March 25, at the Alexander Fire Hall. This event is held every year to celebrate Genesee County's leading industry, agriculture. The highlight of the evening was a delicious meal featuring locally produced foods prepared by the Culinary Arts Students from the Batavia Career and Technical Education Center. 

The collaboration between the Chamber's Agricultural Committee and the Culinary Arts Program, led by Chef Tracy Burgio and Denise Kaus, was a success. The Genesee County Chamber of Commerce approached Chef Tracy Burgio to cater the dinner, knowing that it would be a culinary challenge eagerly embraced by her students she happily accepted. The dinner was open to the public.

The Celebrate Ag Dinner is organized by various partners, including the Genesee County Chamber of Commerce, Cornell Cooperative Extension of Genesee County, Genesee County Soil & Water Conservation District, and Genesee County Farm Bureau. Local farms and businesses donated food grown in the county for the dinner. Chef Burgio, along with the Culinary Arts students, worked together to plan and practice the menu, which featured food products sourced from Genesee County farmers.

"Seeing the students flawlessly produce the meal, with as many attendees that were present was incredible. The operation was not only impressive, the meal was absolutely delicious and highly memorable.  We are thankful for Chef Tracy and Denise, as well as all of our local partners that made the event possible.  Without their support and the food donations, this event could not happen.  A well done collaborative effort for those in our Agricultural community, leaders in education, and students in the culinary arts,” said Genesee County Chamber of Commerce President Brian Cousins.

On June 1, representatives from the Genesee County Chamber of Commerce will visit the Batavia CTE Center to meet with the Culinary Arts students, Chef Burgio, and Kaus. During the visit, they will present a check to the Culinary Art Club as a token of appreciation.

Photo: Attendees of Business After Hours at Norton's Chizzlewood

By Howard B. Owens
Norton Chizzlewood
The Batavian owes publication of this photo to Fran and Bobbi Norton, owners of Norton's Chizzlewood at 4309 Gilhooly Road, Alexander. The Batavian attended a Chamber of Commerce Buisnesss After Hours at Noton's on May 11 and forgot to follow up with coverage.
Photo by Howard Owens.Business

Still in the midst of recovering from fire, The Firing Pin hosts a Chamber After Hours

By Howard B. Owens


It's been less than four weeks since a fire in the firing range at The Firing Pin on Buffalo Road in Bergen nearly shut the business down.

But it isn't shut down.

A sign of that was owner Brandon Lewis and his staff hosting an After Hours event for the Chamber of Commerce -- an event that had been scheduled before the fire.

Lewis saw no reason to cancel it.

His 7,500 square-foot retail space and indoor firing range are gutted, but he rented a mobile firing range and converted a 500 square-foot storage area and studio into a new retail space, so the Firing Pin Remains open to take care of its customers, conduct classes, and keep everything going while he works out recovery details with his insurance carrier.

"It's been an adjustment, but we're making the most of it," Lewis said. "Obviously, if it were up to me, we'd already be half rebuilt already. But, you know, we're working within the limitations that we've got. I couldn't be more thankful for my team. You know, I couldn't imagine where we'd be without their efforts."

Previously: Three days after devastating fire, owner of The Firing Pin looking ahead

Photos by Howard Owens: Top photo, Brandon Lewis and his daughter Emmie.


Kelly Bermingham, membership director for the Chamber, with a cookie made for the chamber event featuring The Firing Pin logo.



John Huther, director for training at The Firing Pin, inside the mobile firing range.

The McCarthy jammed with vendors for this weekend's Home Show

By Howard B. Owens


It's going to be warm outside this weekend so if you need a break from the unseasonable heat, Chamber of Commerce President Brian Cousins has a suggestion -- come on down to the David M. McCarthy Memorial Ice Arena for the 2023 Home Show.

"I know it's a great weekend," Cousins said. "The weather this weekend is awesome, which is unheard of in April -- you get 80-degree weather. But you know, the inside of the Ice Arena is a little bit cooler than outside. It's like natural air conditioning in here. So it's very comfortable for people. I'm looking forward to seeing as many people can come out do so to work on their to-do lists."

This is the first home show for Cousins as chamber president, and he's excited to see it off to a good start.  All of the vendor booths are full, and the chamber even had potential vendors trying to sign up for booths on Friday morning.

Admission is $3 for adults, and hours Saturday are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Sunday.

"Make a list," Cousins said, "check it twice when you're out sitting on your deck or something this weekend, then make a quick trip out, spend an hour to get some different ideas and things that you wanted to do over the course of the last two, three years, especially over the COVID time period when you couldn't get somebody to help you out with things."

Photos by Howard Owens











Can't wait to GeneSEE the Eclipse? The countdown has begun to April 8, 2024

By Joanne Beck


Dark times, they are a-coming.

For three minutes and 42 seconds, reportedly one of the rarest and most spectacular events in nature, the sky will become dark as deep twilight, as bright stars and planets take over the sky stage, and the sun’s fiery outer atmosphere plays lead character against the moon’s silhouette.

And Genesee County officials — planning a full year out, to the day — want to make sure that nobody misses a moment of it. So do be sure to GeneSEE the Eclipse. The Chamber of Commerce has organized a team to ensure that all points are covered, and members launched an event logo and outline for the total solar eclipse set to pass through this county on April 8, 2024.

“Rest assured, Genesee County governments and local municipalities are also going to be preparing. I want to make sure that I emphasize that there will be safety considerations taken into account,” County Manager Matt Landers said Tuesday at chamber headquarters on Park Road in Batavia. “As (County Legislative Chairwoman Shelley Stein and Chamber President Brian Cousine) were saying, there's going to be hundreds of thousands of individuals coming into our community in the GLOW region around the time of the next eclipse, and that can be a little daunting.

“But the planning efforts are in place, the local law enforcement from all levels will be taking part. This is also a great opportunity for our local schools and educators to take advantage of a once-in-a-lifetime event. So I'm glad that we've reached out and have some communications with some of the local school districts. And I've spoken to some local school administrators, and I know that they are already reaching out to their science departments and making sure that we take advantage of this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” he said. “Things like extending spring break one extra day to ensure that there aren't school buses down the roads during the event was a great idea. And I'm glad that it looks like all of our schools are going to be closed so that the kids can fully enjoy this day and not be on the roads at the same time.”

County management, Emergency Management, highway departments and local municipalities are already having kickoff planning meetings to ensure that the roads are safe, Landers said. They all, of course, want to make sure that “we make this as fun of an experience as possible” while keeping public safety in mind.

Speaking of fun, team consultant Glenn Clark reached out to artist and high school art teacher Andy Reddout to create the visual for the campaign. He knew that agriculture is huge in Genesee County and that this was for the total solar eclipse. The final creation is a smiling black-and-white Holstein cow named Genny, standing in front of the outer frame of a large orange eclipsed sun, with a row of small businesses lined up in front of it. No worries, Genny is wearing ISO-certified solar glasses to be able to enjoy the view.


Tuesday’s event included a commemorative poster, the branded solar glasses, custom decorated cake, a champagne toast, and an unveiling of the artist's illustration, paired with the tagline “See it where the skies are darker.”

It is believed that Genesee County, with all of its quaint and rural trappings, will be a draw for spectators, given its low volume of tall buildings, bright lights and obstructions to the phenomenon that won’t return for another 126 years.

Glenn Clark, a consultant with Crafting a Brand from Mendon, wanted to build momentum, so he asked audience members to close their eyes. He then name-dropped three iconic brands: Smokey the Bear, the Pillsbury Doughboy and Tony the Tiger.

“I’ll bet if I asked each and every one of you to tell me what you thought of, you'd all come up with the same thing. That's how branding works. And we've created a visual brand that we're going to unveil here in just a moment that people are going to remember, now through April 8, and beyond,” Clark said. “And it's fun. It's iconic. Most of all, it's memorable. People are going to talk about this. And they're going to say one thing over and over again … So this is a once-in-a-lifetime experience, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to create something that people will remember that we're going to be able to use for the next year. But more importantly, for decades to come. I think that this will show up for decades.”

Katy Hobbs, a Chamber staff member part of the teams for Genesee the Eclipse, said that plans are in place to provide activities for a three-day weekend before and up to the actual big event. Beginning April 5, there are to be special events, celebrations and eclipse-themed foods for residents and visitors alike, she said.

This isn’t just a Chamber event, but something that can involve businesses and residents, she said.

“We are thrilled to see the tremendous local enthusiasm thus far, our team has been actively brainstorming ways to make this experience unforgettable. The chamber will host monthly stakeholder Zoom meetings on the third Tuesday beginning April 18. Each month will focus on a different topic related to the Eclipse, such as finding the best viewing spot and brainstorming ideas for local businesses to promote the total eclipse,” she said. “We’ll be collaborating with local businesses, event organizers and club organizations. Some local businesses have already started initial Eclipse plans, which may include science and nature programming, viewing parties and art historical events. Apart from our Zoom meetings, we also will be establishing a Facebook event as a hub for updates and sharing. Please join us and be a part of the excitement.”

For more information, go to





Genesee County Chamber of Commerce and government officials, sporting their certified solar eclipse glasses, launched the kick off for a 2024 total solar eclipse Tuesday at chamber headquarters in Batavia. Top Photo shows County Legislature Chairwoman Shelley Stein holding the custom decorated cake with chamber staff Kelly Rapone and President Brian Cousins in front; artist Andy Reddout, left, and  consultant Glenn Clark unveil the artwork for the three-day celebration next year featuring Genny the cow and GeneSEE the Eclipse tagline; Shelley Stein cuts the cake for visitors that attended the kickoff as County Manager Matt Landers and Chamber President Brian Cousins watch; and above, Katy Hobbs, chamber membership and marketing director, shares initiatives the team will be working on in the coming months. Photos by Joanne Beck.

Chamber of Commerce announces expanded Barn Quilt Trail of Le Roy

By Press Release


Press release:

The Genesee County Chamber of Commerce is pleased to announce that it has updated and expanded the Barn Quilt Trail of Le Roy, in cooperation with Le Roy Historian Lynne Belluscio and the Le Roy Historical Society, by launching a new website and new self-guided trail brochure.

The original 2012 Barn Quilt Trail began as a bicentennial project for the Town of Le Roy, with the first being painted in 2011 at the annual Oatka Festival. In the following 10 months, the trail surpassed its goal of 25, with over 70 barn quilts being painted and erected.

Today, the trail features a collection of over 100 hand-painted barn quilts along four driving tours in and around LeR oy. Explore the scenic countryside while spotting each unique barn quilt that’s displayed on an array of barns, garages, homes and other outbuildings. Each quilt pattern has a story to tell, and these stories, along with full size images, can be found on the new website.

Barn Quilts are known to drive heritage tourism for rural communities as visitors search out authentic experiences that represent the stories and people, past and present, of the area. For Genesee County, the barn quilts have come to represent the pride shared by the people of LeRoy, a town with a rich agricultural heritage, deep appreciation of its history and immense pride in family heritage.

The Barn Quilt Trail expansion is supported through the Tourism Matching Funds program, administered by Empire State Development and I LOVE NY, New York State's Division of Tourism. 

The Chamber invites everyone to explore the trail and discover the beauty and history of the area. The brochure can be requested online at or picked up at the Chamber’s Visitor Center at 8276 Park Road in Batavia. This, and other local brochures, can be found in our vestibule, which is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week. It will also be available in LeRoy this spring at the Town Hall, Village Hall, McDonald’s, The D&R Depot Restaurant, JELL-O Gallery Museum and the Woodward Memorial Library. Watch for special Barn Quilts programming at the Woodward Memorial Library this spring.

Photos: Chamber honors the contributions to the community by people, organizations, and businesses

By Howard B. Owens


For the 51st time on Saturday, the Chamber of Commerce presented awards to the people and places that make Genesee County a great place to live, work, and play.

The awards ceremony was held at Batavia Downs.


Super volunteer Norm Argulsky was named, for the second time (he received the award in the 1990s), Geneseean of the Year.

See: Chamber of Commerce Award: Geneseean of the Year, Norm Argulsky


GO ART! received the Special Service Recognition Award.

See: Chamber of Commerce Award: Special Service Recognition, GO ART!


Empire Hemp was honored as the Innovative Enterprise of the Year.

See: Chamber of Commerce Award: Innovation Enterprise of the Year, Empire Hemp


The Agricultural Business of the Year is Fenton Produce.

See: Chamber Awards: Agricultural Business of the Year, Fenton's Produce


Max Pies furniture was honored as the Business of the Year.

See: Chamber of Commerce Award: Business of the Year, Max Pies Furniture


Every dinner table at the event was adorned with a life-size cut out of Phil Pies' face.

Photos by Howard Owens

Chamber of Commerce Award: Geneseean of the Year, Norm Argulsky

By Joanne Beck


A believer of community service, faith, gratitude and, for sure, in doing the heavy lifting.

That’s Norm Argulsky, a lifelong Batavian, retired school teacher, and volunteer about town.

Argulsky, on the cusp of turning 85, was surprised to learn he’d been selected as a recipient of the Genesee County Chamber of Commerce Geneseean of the Year. Certainly, there were others more worthy, he said. Well, apparently, the committee thought he was not only equally worthy but most deserving.

“I do what I do because I love doing it,” he said during an interview with The Batavian. “I’ve been very, very happy here, I love Batavia. It’s a wonderful community to live in. I just decided Batavia was my home, all the people that I know are here, so I might just as well stay.”

Stay, perhaps, but stay put? Hardly. He’s too busy for that. Argulsky was a teacher for fifth and sixth graders at Jackson school for 40 years and has been active with Batavia Players since 1995 when the late Wanda Frank recruited him to perform.  He also moved into the role of keeper of the costumes, which comes across quite clearly when he spoke about the new theater space that’s in progress.

“I’ll be spending lots of time there in May and June when moving my temporary place into my new place, the costume room,” he said. “Everything will be done on computer. I will be able to keep track of my costumes. If you want something, I’m the only one who knows where it is.”

According to one of the nomination forms, Argulsky keeps rather immaculate care of the costumes, which …

When they began to loan them out to high schools in Genesee and Monroe counties for their shows, the precious commodities didn’t always make it back. With some reluctance, a decision was made to charge a $2 rental fee per costume, and there hasn’t been a problem since. It all had to do with “giving something for free” that doesn’t work as well, he said.

Argulsky has also become the familiar voice to introduce shows and promise audience members that they’re going to love it, he said tongue in cheek, and he’s been on the Players board since 1996.

A man of faith, Argulsky attends daily mass and had a prior calling to become a priest.

“I believed in and enjoyed my Catholic faith. It got me through many things,” he said.


It was either that or become a teacher, and he unregrettably chose the latter. His classroom style was to not ever shout or send a child to the principal. Or put any of them on the spot.

“I was going to be a happy teacher … I was never going to confront a child in front of the class,” he said. “I’m as busy now as I was when teaching.”

Argulsky is co-chairman of the Super Mammoth Sale, a role he has owned for the last four years. He works with longtime Mammoth volunteer John Bowen, and they raised $30,000 last year for St. Joseph’s School. Is he satisfied with that?

“This year, we’re hoping for a little bit more,” Argulsky said.

He puts in 25 hours a week throughout the year, carrying, moving, lifting, cleaning, pricing, cleaning, sorting and organizing items alongside Bowen and other volunteers that pitch in to help.

“I find that physically I’m very, very good,” Argulsky said, contrasting that with a less glowing report on the cognitive side, which is “expected with aging.” That was certainly hard to verify, given his spot-on recollections.

Ready for more from this octogenarian? He has helped with the bereavement program at Resurrection Parish since 2003, serving meals for loved ones of the deceased after a funeral, and counts the church money on Mondays. For six years before the Mammoth began on Saturdays this year, he volunteered at Genesee County Park’s Interpretive Center, welcoming people, giving tours and guiding them to their destination on a map.

We’re not done. For the past four years, Argulsky has served as cashier for Crossroads House summer sale and has driven close friends to medical appointments, writing down the doctor’s words and prescriptions to read back to the friend later.

When does he sleep? “I only have to have six hours of sleep a night, and I am fine,” he said.

Any of his extra time is devoted to reading — four books, mostly fiction, at any given time — plus walking and running.

“I am extremely thankful, God has provided me with a very, very happy life,” he said. “Everything seems so negative now, I try to compliment people and be happy all the time … count your blessings. I have values, and I live by my values, I don’t compromise that. I know my life is different than other people's. I go to mass every day; it’s to thank God for everything.”

Has there been anything left on the proverbial bucket list at this point? Listen up, Pat Burk.

“I’d like to play Morrie (in ‘Tuesdays With Morrie’) one more time with Batavia Players on their brand new stage,” Argulsky said.

He was nominated for this award based on his 36 years of investment into young people as a teacher at Jackson School, and his dedicated community service as a volunteer for many organizations throughout Genesee County, least of not including lead roles as King Lear and Uncle Vanya for Batavia Players’ productions, his input and guidance have been significant in the development of the new theater in Batavia City Centre, lending costumes to community residents to dress them in authentic period clothing for local special events, such as the City's Centennial Celebration a few years ago. "We all benefit from his knowledge and expertise," a nomination states. 

The Richmond Memorial Library has been a focus for Argulsky, according to nomination forms, as he is currently serving in his ninth year on the Board of Trustees. He has served as vice president and then for four years as president of the board. "Norm continues to shape the future of young people by serving as president on the Board of Directors at St. Joseph's Regional School. His hands-on leadership style includes co-chairing the Mammoth Sale, as a leading volunteer for the annual sales event that benefits Crossroads House, a member of the Genesee-Orleans Regional Arts Council (GO-Art!) and other similar organizations," it states.

He has contributed to St. Joseph Regional School in many ways. He has served on the school board since 2018, acting as president for the last five years. He has been instrumental in assisting and overseeing the yearly budget; establishing tuition rates; overseeing expenses and income; and working to assist school leaders in making a smooth transition from a parish school to a regional school. "His educational advice has always been appreciated and valued as we prepare documents to submit to the NYS Education Department to validate our excellent educational programming and the services we provide to our students on a daily basis. 

"Norm Argulsky is a fine man, professional and caring. He truly cares for our organization as one of many that he is involved in. He also loves the Genesee County community and continues to volunteer and give to this day. His activities at the Richmond Memorial Library and St. Joseph's School are parallel to none. He has a constant presence at both organizations, and I am certain that, like Batavia Players, they would not be the same or as successful without his active involvement. He is truly a treasure in our community," yet another nomination form stated. 

The 51st annual Chamber Awards event is on Saturday at Batavia Downs Gaming.


Norm Argulsky in some rare moments at home when not out volunteering in the community. Photos by Howard Owens.

Chamber of Commerce Award: Business of the Year, Max Pies Furniture

By Joanne Beck


Squirrels, a dead-end street across from an elementary school, and the four seasons.

Those have been some of the challenges being situated in a fairly remote — and animal-friendly — section of the city in Western New York for Phil and Steve Pies over the years, Steve says.

Yet despite that and the typical ups and downs of retail business, Max Pies Furniture has endured 118 years since its settling into that comfy spot at the end of Jackson Street in 1905. Founder Max Pies and family built not only a small business but also their home, and the place was handed down to now Steve, the fourth generation of the Pies family.

No wonder they have earned the Chamber of Commerce Business of the Year Award. And there’s no other place they would have continued the tradition that began for furniture and flooring sales.

“As far as this structure and this business from this location, it’s the same location. Obviously, they added on to the store since 1905. But the original location and their house were in the parking lot you pulled into,” Steve Pies said. “They went all over the board from Rochester to Buffalo, and I think even close to Syracuse at one point in the 80s. Rochester Linoleum bought out all of the flooring aspects. But the furniture, even though we do flooring here as well, the original furniture store Max Pies name started right here.”

And they both must have just naturally fallen right in line with the business, yes?

"Well, not really,” Phil said. “I went to college, then I was in the Air Force. And then my uncle was here at the time, and my dad.”

Phil was married with two children, Steve and Natalie, and living in Sacramento, Calif. at the time. After his Uncle Jake died, he ended up returning to Batavia and worked alongside his dad, Sam. Business must have been good for longevity: his grandfather worked until he died at 93, and the same for his father until he was 83. Phil has been the friendly face of Max Pies for the last 53 years.

It was a similar crooked path for Steve, who didn’t immediately return from college to join the family business. He went off to pursue a business degree at Plattsburgh State College, and something drew his attention to working on a cruise ship — he had visions of “Love Boat” — and went aboard to work as a Blackjack dealer and then worked around Nevada in casinos building a career as a card dealer.

He eventually returned and decided to help his dad, who turns 80 in May. They thought back to what has changed over the years, and certainly, costs have been a big one.

“Freight rates have changed, insurance, overhead,” Phil said. “And styles, we sold a lot of colonial, and now we sell a lot more modern styles.”

Steve added that retro comes and goes, but a shift that has added time, labor and unexpected expenses has been how furniture arrives now versus years ago.

“It used to be all assembled,” Steve said. “Now it’s called KD, for knockdown. It's, take them off the truck, unpack them out of the box, set them up with screws and a drill and dispose of the garbage. It's a lot more tedious.”

While costs have shot up on their end, the waste management business is booming. The Pies have a 40-yard roll-off Dumpster that costs $800, and sometimes it gets filled three times a month with styrofoam and boxes, Steve said. For the most part, they depend on sales reps for advice and guidance on what’s trending, what’s hot, and what to buy throughout the year, Steve said.

“My dad has a good relationship with a lot of our reps. The reps know what’s out there,” he said. “But we try to have a variety as well because, you know, you’ve got 20-year-old couples, and you’ve got 70-year-old people and you’ve got in between, and there's such a different dynamic.”

A walk through the downstairs showroom features a painter’s pallet of gray hues — from charcoal and slate to lighter silvers. Grays are definitely in right now, the father-son team agreed, and other hot items include power recliners, sleeper sofas and sectionals. They will cater to people’s tastes, but with a focus on this locale, Steve said.

For example, unlike more eclectic geographical areas such as New York City, this region has a mixed appetite that includes a lot of rural country.

“We have hunters, they want the classic. They want a camouflage recliner, they want a rocking chair, and a certain bedroom set that looks like a plank cabin look,” Steve said, adding that there was a camouflage recliner in stock that day just waiting for an avid hunter.

For the approximately $2.5 million of sales volume they accomplish, the staff is small, Steve said: seven people, including Jimmy, Peggy, Eddie, Reggie and Hunter, plus subcontractors. Hours have been reduced over the years, especially when COVID hit, from a crazy 9 to 9 schedule to 9 to 7 and then 9 to 5 work day, Steve said.

“The biggest challenge for a store like ours in a town like this in a state like this is we deliver furniture winter, spring, summer and fall. We've gone through roofs, we've gone through windows, we take off doors, we go up and down. We unload trucks in blizzards. And we have a building that has, you know, leaky roofs. We have squirrels … so I would say, having an old building and four seasons,” he said. “And I would also say that if you look at our location, you could arguably say this is the worst location on planet Earth for a retail furniture store, dead-end residential neighborhood across from an elementary school. That's my long-winded answer to the challenges.

“ (Turning to his dad) But you’ve been here 53 years. So yeah, there was a time where my dad said, the accountants used to say, ‘you made too much money this year, you got to do something with it.’ And there's been other times where we can't pay our bills,” Steve said. “So it's a very cyclical business in the notion of, you just gotta keep grinding and keep going. It is what it is. So there still are heydays, and there still are lows, and there still are in between.”

Given it is a “cyclical business” that definitely still experiences those good times of Batavia’s yesteryear, what’s the secret? Max Pies motto, Steve said, giving a nod to his dad.

“Where customers send their friends,” he said.

The nomination committee selected Max Pies, partly due to Steve’s “tremendous” contributions for bringing the business “into the 2000s” via online ordering and a website, excellent customer service and marketing the business in many unique ways.

Photo of Steve and Phil Pies at Max Pies Furniture store at 400 S. Jackson St., Batavia. Photo by Howard Owens.

Chamber of Commerce Award: Special Service Recognition, GO ART!

By Joanne Beck


Sitting in the Batavia GO ART! building next to a white baby grand piano with walls of artwork and embracing a definite quiet, creative vibe, Gregory Hallock shares his journey since arriving seven years ago.

It really couldn’t have gotten much worse.

“Yes, we were in a 'save the organization mode.' We were doing really bad. We were in the red. So we were trying to get ourselves out of it. And I made the decision, with the support of my board, to spend money that we didn't have so that we could be seen in the community and start to do stuff so people would know what we do because people don't like to support a bleeding organization. We needed to show that we were doing more than just bleeding,” said Hallock, who was promoted to executive director two years later. “So we started doing classes and activities and a whole bunch of stuff so that people would start talking about us. And I started applying for a ton of grants. And we received a lot, but not a ton. Like 20 percent of the grants.”

Some of the new initiatives were children’s creative arts camp weekends, a Ramble Explore Art tent, regularly opening the kitchen and bar, and obtaining a liquor license at Tavern 2.0.1, which has worked handily for drawing more customers in and selling more art — nearly two dozen pieces for a record at a recent exhibit, Hallock said.

The nonprofit has also substantially increased grants it disperses to the community — going from $47,000 to $210,000 for artistic endeavors.

“I tell people that honestly, if you go to something artistic in Genesee or Orleans County, there's a really strong chance that we sponsored it, that we gave it funding to happen. We've been really working at letting people know they think of GO ART! as go ART!, as a cheer. And trying to show the GO stands for Genesee Orleans,” he said. “So we don't just do stuff in support. We now create stuff ourselves. Every single one of my employees is an artist, as well. We all have that background and want to be able to enjoy what we do at the same time. You know, we're good at the admin stuff. But we also love art. So we bring that in.”


GO ART!, the oft-used acronym for Genesee-Orleans Regional Arts Council, captures the two-county organization. However, Batavia has a bustling site with galleries, exhibits and receptions, a kitchen, bar, comedy shows, kids’ activities, bartender competition fundraisers, music, and other special events on a regular basis.

In the earlier days, upon Hallock’s arrival, there was one gallery and office space, he said. Now, in addition to those offerings above, there are seven galleries, a film studio, a podcast studio, library, stage, makeup studio, a culinary program, classes and demonstrations, and there’s no point in stopping now.

“We’re whole-heartedly looking at adding additional space here in Batavia and in Medina. We're currently working on these two spaces so that we can expand and offer a lot more programming. Because we're also looking into mental health. Where the community, the world, is in a big space for needing mental health stuff. So we're talking like we'd love to have music therapists, art therapists, and are trying to get it, so we have a lot more available,” Hallock said. “A bigger gallery, like on the level of competing with major galleries in Rochester and Buffalo, you know? We're trying to do a bigger coffee shop, artists and shop, little boutique clothing place. I mean, there are so many things that we want to add to it so that it's an immersive experience. And then if you're coming for one thing specific, hopefully, you'll see that there's so many other things happening. We really want to be arts -- we want to be a community arts and cultural center, not just an arts and cultural center. So that's where we're going.”

Except he wouldn’t disclose exactly where they’d be going.

“Everybody keeps saying, ‘well, we're halfway between Rochester and Buffalo.’ So I want this to be the reason that people come from Rochester and Buffalo to Batavia because we do amazing arts and cultural activities,” he said.

GO ART! supports the arts, cultural and wide-ranging diversity programs, he said, such as religious, LGBTQ, Black Lives, Just Kings, and various support group organizations.

“We will work with anybody,” he said. “What we do is for anyone, as long as they will work with anyone.”

He referred to a mural on the building’s backside, dotted with faces representing various ethnicities and cultures. Yet to be completed, he said, it is something he wanted as a way to let the public know “all are welcomed here.”

The organization more recently produced a printed calendar of GO ART! events and is mulling the idea of including additional arts organization events as well for a quarterly edition. The site has gaining speed through word of mouth, Hallock said, as he’s been getting phone calls and emails from folks who have heard about GO ART! and want to visit. The list of members has grown from about 150 to 200, as just the beginning.

“We’re hoping to get a marketing director in March,” he said, adding that one doesn’t need to be a member to participate in events, but it provides discounts on the myriad of year-round activities. New happenings have included a Peruvian dinner fundraiser, an RIT animation program, a murder mystery event with a charcuterie board and desserts.

Established in 1962 and quite active in the last few decades, Hallock finds it difficult to hear people say they’ve never heard of GO ART! Thankfully, many other organizations have stepped up to help out with cleaning the 7,000-square-foot site, including Arc GLOW, BOCES, and the Senior Center’s RSVP program.

“I had a lady just call today asking, ‘how can I help, what can I do?’” he said. “When I started, it was just me and a volunteer at 30 hours a week. We didn’t have funding to pay anyone else. Now we have four full-time staff and two part-time staff, and a full-time marketing director to be hired, and a GLOW folklorist.”

The nomination committee selected GO ART! for the dramatic change in perception and recognition of the organization in the past six years, a nomination form states.

“It has become an active, vital member of the community. For years it was a marginal part of the community, city. The acquisition of the old Batavia Club was a drain on the resources of the council,” it states. “The building has been transformed from an occasional glance by people to a place that is well known. With the organization's dream and vision, the building has grown from only using 30 percent of the space to now utilizing the entire building. While keeping the integrity of the historic structure, each room is now a space for the arts - visual, performing, media and culinary. Every time one visits, there is something new that excites. GO ART! is deserving of recognition for the tireless and "out of the box" vision of the arts and culture in our community.” 

Top Photo: GO ART! Executive Director Gregory Hallock takes a seat in the foyer of the nonprofit at 201 East Main St., Batavia, and the talented staff gathers for a pose from left, Angie Dickson, Gregory Hallock, Jodi Fisher and Mary Jo Whitman. Photos by Howard Owens.

Chamber of Commerce Award: Innovation Enterprise of the Year, Empire Hemp

By Joanne Beck


Sinus steamers, muscle mousse and scrubby bars may not seem to be your typical hemp and cannabis company products, but they’re exactly a reason why Empire Hemp Co. has become so popular in its field.

“We create a lot of unique products you wouldn’t find in other stores,” Chief Operating Officer Shelly Wolanske said. “In order to keep current, we’re constantly coming up with new ideas for products.”

The company, based on the first floor of 34 Swan St. and expanding into 23,000 square feet that includes the second floor for production and storage, with a retail store at 204 East Main St. in downtown Batavia, has been selected for the Chamber of Commerce Innovative Enterprise of the Year Award. While Chief Executive Officer Chris Van Dusen and Wolanske were surprised, they agree the type of business is all about being innovative.


“We’re the first cannabis business in Genesee County,” he said. “As far as what we’ve come from and where we’ve gone to, we ordered a lot of equipment and brought on a lot of investors to fund that expansion. We are so we have our whole line of adult-use cannabis products or THC products, and those include pre-rolled ‘cones,’ gummies and vape cartridges and flour. We needed the new equipment to do those products and locked down the gummy recipe. We just took our first orders for gummies to dispensaries in New York.

“As we’ve grown the business, we’ve had to learn each aspect of the business, start off with CBD, and we have to learn not only the regulations and the state compliances, but we also have to learn how does the machinery work? What's the most efficient way for them to work, train employees, and, there's all these different nuances around it, that's part of growing a business,” Van Dusen said.

There has been no blueprint to follow, Shelly added, no trailblazer ahead of them to follow. They’ve been the trailblazers, forging their way through the state regulations, certifications, inspections and protocols to ensure they’re doing things the right way.

“It’s been trial and error; we’ve figured this out; regulations and testing’s been a challenge,” Van Dusen said.

They’ve had to find out through trial and error how to do things as efficiently as possible, when it was time to recruit and hire more staff, and what products were hot or not. Making gummies, for example, might seem like an easy task, and yet it took one and a half years to perfect the recipe, Wolanske said. They worked with different preservatives and flavorings, and it came out either too mushy or too stiff and took a lot of adjustments to get it to the chewy, gummy consistency they wanted.

There have been other challenges, including a lawsuit right now in New York State that’s holding up deliveries from dispensaries.

“That’s a whole other challenge we’re working on,” Van Dusen said. “We’re constantly solving problems. It’s exciting but challenging at the same time.”

They raised “a substantial” amount of money to buy equipment for their production needs and hired five people in the last three months to work at the store. One goal is to educate people about their products while the field has dwindled in certain arenas, Wolanske said.

“It takes a certain attitude. There’s an ebb and flow,” she said. “There’s very few of us left from the CBD days.”


Despite all of the hurdles, Van Dusen sees that “the opportunity in front of us is really incredible.”

“We’re really excited about where we are going with the expansion. We're quadrupling our footprint. That's our next phase of focus, how we're going to build that out. And then we have to get it okayed by the state, and then we have to get it Good Manufacturing Practices certified before we can start production out there,” Van Dusen said. “So we have to clean it, we have to paint it. And we have to then have a consultant come in and make sure we have everything ready for our audits for both the state and from the third party auditor to make sure that we're in compliance.”

The plan is to fill up that upstairs space with an indoor growth facility and keep rolling together as a cohesive group.

“Any little step is a huge step for us,” Wolanske said. “Everybody we’ve hired so far is part of the team. They’re in.”

And so, too — obviously — have Van Dusen and Wolanske been in since the beginning, which began long before they founded Empire Hemp and planted their first site on Swan Street in 2019 and then opened the store in April 2020 downtown.

Their award nominations included articles about the early days of Wolanske, whose path to the hemp industry brought her by way of being a policy-maker in the alcohol and substance abuse and prevention field, and Van Dusen as an entrepreneur, furniture maker, contractor, bicycle mechanic, tour guide, and father of three, whose history with cannabis dated back to the nineties during his battle with cancer. It was the intense effects of chemotherapy, in particular, that pushed him to explore alternative methods of recovery from the side effects of Hodgkin's Lymphoma treatment. 

"During that time, California had just legalized medical marijuana for cancer and AIDS patients, and I was having a tough time with chemotherapy," he said. "It relieved nausea and the terrible feeling I had from the chemicals being pushed through my veins and allowed me to have a level of normalcy in my life. It was like night and day, and I could go back to work. I knew at that point there was something about this plant that had some serious healing. It was life-changing." 

Fast forward to 2020, when COVID hit, and the couple learned another form of survival during pandemic shutdowns. Nomination forms included yet other articles about the tenacity of Van Dusen and Wolanske to operate a walk-up window, followed by the opening of their store, which was a success. While some places have merely posted a sign, it’s not as easy — or legal — as that, Van Dusen has said, wanting to clarify and educate the truth for consumers to know in further articles, all used as part of the nomination process.


Top Photo: Chris Van Dusen, founder and Co-founder Shelly Wolanske at their Empire Hemp shop on East Main Street, Batavia, and several of their self-created products. Photos by Howard Owens.

Chamber Awards: Agricultural Business of the Year, Fenton's Produce

By Joanne Beck


When Paul and Gail Fenton met in Pembroke High School and were fellow 1981 graduates, she had a grand vision for her future: to be a news reporter, live in the big city and drive a red Corvette.

Marrying a lifelong farmer meant erasing a few of those high school girl daydreams, Gail says.

“I now live in the country, I farm and drive a red pickup. So it went complete opposite of what I was thinking,” she said. "So, in fact, I had a couple of jobs right after we got married. And I got pregnant with our oldest in ’87. And it was shortly after it was that summer that Paul was like, ‘You know what, I think we could make a run of the farm, you and I both working on the farm. And now that I live on a farm, I was like, You know what, I don't know if I would have enjoyed living in the city. I know it was nice with this occupation because I wasn't technically labeled a stay-at-home mom, but I had all the perks of a stay-at-home mom, I got to do all the field trips with the kids … not many families nowadays eat three meals a day together, but we were able to do that.”

What she and Paul got, instead of a life in the city, was a life of pursuing the family tradition, living off the land, meeting Mother Nature’s unexpected challenges, changing with the times, learning new technologies and methods, and making a real go of Fenton’s Produce.

The Batavia-based company, which operates three sites of 60 acres along Pratt Road, is the recipient of this year’s Genesee County Chamber of Commerce Agricultural Business of the Year Award. When Gail took the phone call, she heard a man say he was a lawyer, and she thought ‘what have we done?’ It was tense few moments until he mentioned that she and Paul had won an award, she admitted.

They were surprised, but recognize that small certainly doesn’t mean bland or cookie-cutter.

“We’re just a tiny farm,” Gail said. “We grow all kinds of stuff. “Anything new coming out, we’ll try it.”

“We like being our own bosses. This type of farming, every day is different, by 8 a.m. you’re headed in a different direction. We never do the same thing all day,” Paul said. “It’s provided us with a decent income, our health, it’s a physical job that keeps us in shape, you get to see things that most people don’t get to see … a critter, the sunset, a sunrise. I’m carrying on my grandfather’s and uncles’ hard work.”

They sat in their home, circa 1830s and situated in the middle of the main farm. It is the original homestead of his uncles, surname Kiefer, who ran the establishment before selling it to Paul and Gail. They wanted to follow in the family's footsteps with a variety of cash crops, as Uncles Fred and Louis, and his grandparent’s blueberries on Route 5.

Look for the Fenton’s farmstand on Pratt Road during the warmer months, and produce also fills shelves at Tops in Batavia, Le Roy and East Aurora, and seasonally at the East Aurora Farmers Market. The couple is not afraid to try new produce — asparagus, five varieties of potatoes, peppers, brussels sprouts, broccolini, kale, beets, and new this season, hanging strawberry baskets and other vegetation.


“We start in the spring with transplants, and have slowly added other stuff,” Gail said. “We’ve had to adjust. We’re headed more towards broccolini and root crops and away from winter squash. People love whatever’s easy to make.”

Along with following trends and current demand, the Fentons have turned to the mechanics of farming to help reduce the need for labor, since finding it can be difficult, and they cannot do everything — or lift hefty weights — themselves.

“It wasn’t a big deal to get a group of teenagers out on the field, now … it’s a juggling act with our labor. We are seasonal, there’s just not that much work,” he said. “We’re surrounded by multiple-acre farms. We are the small family farm.  We’ve had to adjust what we can do, and get mechanical help.”

“I used to have a T-shirt -- it said, 'farming is not just a job; it's a lifestyle.' And that's true. Yeah, we live this job 24/7. If you look at our place, our house sits in the center of our farm. We don't get away from the farm. You don't walk in the house, you don't close the door, and you're done for the day. There's something that could come up at two o'clock in the morning that you're going to have to go turn to,” Paul said.

“Paul always jokes that he has Bontrager on speed dial,” Gail said.

Another saying that Gail joked about sheds some light on the sentimental aspect of the business that's near and dear to their hearts: We’ll expire before we retire.

Paul and Gail were nominated for bringing “a sharp business focus to their cropping approach, seeking out and adopting efficiency-improving equipment. They have an eye for innovation and understanding emerging trends.”

“Take, for instance, their early adoption of food safety practices and GAPS certification. Fentons also position themselves ahead of the curve when it comes to new production techniques - they are a key part of developing them! For decades they have been a generous host farm for Cornell research trials. In 2022 alone, they cared for two variety trials, tested a laser scarecrow, and hosted the regional sweet corn pest monitoring traps.”

Paul and Gail are extremely observant and thoughtful crop managers, Fenton's Produce has a reputation for fabulous product, whether that be flowers, blueberries, or vegetables, and they foster a fun, informative, laid-back, and personalized experience for their retail customers, the nomination states.

“Paul and Gail are extremely community oriented. They truly want to see everyone be successful as growers and open their farm up to share their knowledge with others. They've hosted many field days over the years. Paul often adds on his own after-meeting tour, often to check out his favorite cultivating equipment,” it states. “They are also frequent hosts for tours of their farm from Leadership Genesee to Decision Makers. Their passion for agriculture is evident when speaking to the public about their business.” 


Paul and Gail Fenton at their homestead farm on Pratt Road in Batavia, working in their greenhouse, and one of the five varieties of potatoes that they grow. Photos by Howard Owens.

Vendor space available at 2023 Home Show in April

By Press Release


Press release:

The Genesee County Chamber of Commerce is calling for vendors to participate in our 2023 Home Show on April 14,15,16, 2023.  Seeking a variety of vendors:  Home Improvement, Realty, Lawn Equipment, Farm Equipment, Windows and Doors Gutters and Siding, Entertainment, Home Goods, etc.

The Home Show will be held at the David McCarthy Memorial Ice Arena, 22 Evans Street, Batavia.  This 8th Annual event brings together 2,500 people over the course of three days.

Interested vendors will need to return the application and booth fees by March 10th to be included in advertisements. Applications can be downloaded from the Chamber's website at and are available at the Chamber's office, 8276 Park Road.  Space is limited and on a first-come basis. 

Photo: File photo from 2022 show by Howard Owens

Photo: New chamber president meets members at Eli Fish

By Howard B. Owens


Brian Cousins, the new president of the Genesee County Chamber of Commerce, mingles with local business owners and community leaders on Thursday at Eli Fish Brewing Co. at a meet-and-greet set up so community members who might not yet have met Cousins could get a chance to shake his hand and say hello.

He's been on the job for about a month so we asked him the best part of the job so far, and the worst part.

"The best part is learning something new every day," Cousins said. "The worst part is learning something new every single day."

Previously: Second career path means representing 'best place on earth' for former Darien Lake executive

Celebrate Ag Dinner scheduled for March 25, tickets going fast

By Press Release


Press release:

Plans are well underway for the 19th Annual Celebrate Agriculture Dinner which will take place Saturday, March 25, 2023 at 6 pm at the Alexander Fire Hall. This annual event is a celebration of Genesee County’s #1 Industry, Agriculture! The highlight of the night is a delicious meal using locally produced foods prepared by the Culinary Arts Students from the Batavia Career and Technical Education Center. Let by Chef Tracy Burgio and Denise Kaus, Culinary Arts teacher aide, this will be the second year of this perfect collaboration between the Chamber’s Agricultural Committee & Culinary Arts Program. The dinner is open to the public.

Tickets go on sale December 5th at the Genesee County Chamber of Commerce, 8276 Park Road, Batavia. Tickets are $30 each or a table of 10 can be purchased for $275. Sponsorships are also available which help support agriculture educational events in Genesee County. Only 400 tickets will be sold. Please RSVP BY MARCH 17, 2023. For more information or to download the registrations flyer visit the Chamber’s Website

The Celebrate Ag Dinner is coordinated by the following partners: Genesee County Chamber of Commerce, Cornell Cooperative Extension of Genesee County, Genesee County Soil & Water Conservation District and Genesee County Farm Bureau.

Sponsors of the 2022 celebration included: Alleghany Farm Services, Arctic Refrigeration, Baskin Livestock, Inc., Carolina Eastern Crocker, CPL, New York State Senator Edward Rath, Farm Credit East, Farm Family Insurance, Fieldstone Private Wealth, Five Star Bank, Freed Maxick CPA, Growmark-FS, L&M Specialty Fabrications, LLC, Lamb Farms, Lawley, My-T Acres, National Grid, OXBO International, Perry Veterinary Clinic, Scott Adams Trucking, Tompkins Community Bank, Torrey Farms, Western New York Energy, LLC, Upstate Niagara Cooperative, Inc. William Kent, Inc. and Windy Acres Farm.

Farms and businesses that donated locally grown food for the 2022 dinner included: Angry Bees Apiary, Dorman Farms, Fenton’s Produce, SJ Starowitz Farms, Torrey Farms, Upstate Farms, Harrington Produce, Farm Fresh First Inc. Star of the West, Jeremy Neal Poverty Hill Farms. 

 File photo by Howard Owens

Second career path means representing 'best place on earth' for former Darien Lake executive

By Joanne Beck


As someone who has traveled to 40 countries, Brian Cousins seems steeped in perspective when it comes to judging his own residence.

And he has deemed Genesee County as a top place to live.

“The strengths that I see, really, I can kind of equate a little bit to my personal life. Cherie and I have traveled quite extensively, but every time we come home, we've physically looked to each other and said that we live in the best place on earth. It's got the best climate. It's got the best area. You can either stay in the city of Batavia or one of the villages and kind of have that village environment or that close but not overwhelming metropolitan feel," he said during an interview Friday with The Batavian. "Or you could be out in a rural area and have your space and be able to relax. So we've got the four seasons that play very well ... Agriculture obviously is the number one industry in the county, which is great because people always need to eat.”

It’s important for Cousins to care about the county’s attributes, given that he is the new president of the Genesee County Chamber of Commerce as of Dec. 19. A longtime employee of various departments — from seasonal and sales to marketing, entertainment and his most recent position as director of accommodations — at Six Flags Darien Lake, the Corfu resident steadily grew professionally from his four seasonal gigs and then a first full-time job working as an inside sales rep.

Initially thinking he would work the mic for a radio station after testing the waters at Genesee Community College and then pursuing Communications at Fredonia State College, Cousins eventually followed the trail that led to a steady job. And then to a successful career at Darien Lake, where he comfortably remained for 25 years.

There’s also the other important element of meeting his wife Cherie. She also worked at Darien Lake.

“She was working there seasonally and has worked there seasonally ever since. So that's been kind of near and dear to my heart. Obviously, whatever place you meet your significant other that will always mean something to you,” he said. “She was a Pembroke graduate. She had never worked at the park until the couple of years that I met her there. So that was kind of neat. She's obviously local. And we still live in Corfu.”

So why leave now?

That’s an interesting question, he said. He has shared a similar career story with former President Tom Turnbull and Chris Suozzi of the county Economic Development Center, Cousins said.

“You get to a point in your career and in your life that you stop, and you kind of take a look around you, and you say, ‘Where have I been? What have I been doing? And what do I want to do for the rest of my, working career?’ And I … was going to work for Darien Lake until, you know, retirement age,” he said. “But as you stop and you kind of do a little self-reflection, and you realize, you've lived in a county for the majority of my life, all my career working age life, and you look around, and you've been working so hard, but you don't really know anybody in the county or, you know, places around it.”

So he thought about his time with Leadership Genesee back in 2018, and how he worked alongside so many business people to effect change or help people achieve what they’re trying to do. Being a glass-half-full kind of guy, Cousins saw the Chamber vacancy as an opportunity for a whole new “second path career” to do those things again.

“The Chamber job checked all those boxes. And so that was what really drew me to it,” he said.

There were long conversations with Cherie, he said, since their current lifestyle has been two and a half decades. On the other hand, it “quite literally feels like a blink of an eye.”

His first two weeks have meant learning everything “from soup to nuts” from Interim President Tom Turnbull, “basically showing me everything that I  needed to know, the high-level stuff,” Cousins said.

“I really look forward to trying to make sure that I protect this place and carry on in his footsteps and make him just as proud of the organization as he was when he was here,” Cousins said. “The staff is incredible here. They just want to work hard. So out of six people here, four of us are new within this las year … And what’s great about it is everyone’s open. And people are here with that interest, and industrial knowledge to be able to show us the way.”

He hasn’t always been what he now describes as a “happy-go-lucky person,” but the 49-year-old has learned that you can only control so much in life, and there comes a point when you have to let things go.

“And if you let those things get you down that you can't control, then you can never overcome those things that you can control,” he said.

What he can control are drafting goals and a to-do list that include observing how the staff works together as an overall organization and creating an “incredibly strong team,” he said.

“First and foremost is learning what has been done before, seeing how it works, understanding how it works, and talking with not just the staff here, but talking with the board, listening to what they would like to achieve and seeing what they would like to do and understanding what has worked and what hasn't," he said. "But also talk to all the members and seeing why they liked the chamber, how it helps." 

Part of his philosophy is to have a vision, and he sees the Chamber embracing customer service for everyone -- no matter if from out of county or from Canada -- and providing proper and accurate information.

“To somebody that is having a business challenge that walks into the door and wants to talk about a different resource or something else that we could do for them — just being able to lean together as a team to be able to answer that call,” he said.

Cousins believes in systems — systematically addressing issues and operational elements, he said. That being said, he also has an open door policy with communication as a tried and true tenet, “the lifeblood,” of any organization, he said.

There will be a change in one of his routines, and that’s his and his wife’s travel schedule. They typically have had to work around Darien’s busy summers, and can now plan to enjoy a Fourth of July and other warm weather getaways. As for his work style, folks can count on the status quo.

“An open door, a smiling face, an extended hand,” he said, quoting the Chamber’s mission. “If a business calls us, we will do anything we can to promote, support and connect. That’s our job, to figure out how to connect them.”

Cousins filled the vacancy left by former President Erik Fix, who is now Batavia's Assistant City Manager.

Photo of Brian Cousins in his new Chamber of Commerce office on Park Road in Batavia, by Howard Owens.

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