"Don't it always seem to go, that you don't know what you've got 'til it's gone," Joni Mitchell told us in "Big Yellow Taxi."
The Stumblin' Inn is gone and Sunday, for seven hours, bands, fans, friends, and family gathered in Elba to celebrate a bar that was more than a watering hole, it became a community icon and second home for nearly every local musician.
"We didn't have a clue until the day of the fire," said Jim Goff, manager of the Stumblin'. "The day of the fire it's like we started to realize, with all the stories and people crying that we meant a lot to these people. We never thought about it or knew and then the day of the fire and then ever since then it's just been love."
The event at the Elba Fire Hall, with a tent and stage behind the fire hall and another stage in side, was a fundraiser for Jim and his brother Stork Goff, owner of the Stumblin' Inn. The funds will help them defray clean-up costs of the building site and any extra will help with any of their personal expenses.
The most recent count available from event organizers was $21,000 raised but that was an hour before the event ended.
"The support is unbelievable," Jim Goff said. "The love. It's a love fest. You know, it's awesome, the talking all day, hugging, kissing. It's been a really enjoyable day and hopefully we gave the folks some good music."
Savage Cabbage was there, a band that played the Stumblin' dozens and dozens of times over the past 20 years.
"There are people here I haven't seen in 20 years, some of the ones from the earlier days of the band," said Savage Cabbage member Frank Starowitz. "To see this kind of turnout today, you know, the sadness of losing the Stumblin', it's heartfelt. It almost brings a tear to your eye just seeing the melted the sign and the paint from the bathroom wall with the guys and all the stuff, the memories, and the times, it's like, you know, it's so sad it hurts. But, you know, we all come together for beers to support Jim and Stork."
The first hotel built at what became 1 S. Main St., Elba, was erected in 1815. It burned down in 1874. The next hotel opened its doors in 1875. It was known over the years as the Elba Hotel or Swartz Hotel. Steve Goff purchased the building in 1979 from the Zambito family and opened the Stumblin' Inn.
Jim ran the bar and as a music fan, he soon established what amounted to an open-door policy for bands and musicians to play in the bar, making the Stumblin' a haven for local muscians.
The Stumblin' Inn was destroyed by fire July 8.
The bar was also a community gathering place. Many people had their first beer there, including Starowitz.
"That was when I first turned 18 I started drinking at the Stumblin'," Starowitz said. "I'll be 55 tomorrow. So many years of good times drinking and having fun at the Stumblin' Inn."
Frank Zambito pretty much grew up in the Stumblin' Inn. His father was one of the owners. He and his wife gave framed prints of a picture by local artist Pat Burr of the 19th century version of the Swartz Hotel.
"I used to walk home from school with my cousin Chuckie Ajello," Zambito said. "We always stopped and walked in and my father would give us a grape pop and send us on our way. There's a lot of good memories. There's the time the Rochester Royals were there -- the basketball team in Rochester -- I remember going to see them. My father was friends with the owner."
Music was a big part of life at the Elba Hotel when the Zambitos owned it, Frank said, just as it was with the Goffs, but it was also always a place to meet up with friends.
"It was always a landmark," Zambito said. "You would always go by and look to see if you recognized any cars and if you recognized a car you might stop and have a drink with them. On Sunday mornings, we used to have a fantasy football league. We'd always stop and then submit our teams. It was always a social place people could go and have a good time."
Zambito wasn't surprised by the turnout at the fundraiser. So many people had so many memories of the great old place, and such fondness for the Goffs, that of course they would show up.
"You know, they just want to be a part of it again," Zambito said. "I'm just sad that the place is gone but I'm glad that no one got hurt. And, Jim and Stork, they'll be all right. Everybody will be alright. It'll be worked out that way."
Top photo: Jim Goff with his daughter Jess Kertman and his granddaughter, Cali, age 5.
Peggy Zambito, Jim Goff, Frank Zambito.