Geneva 15 years ago
By Karen Osburn, Archivist
Fifteen years may not seem like much in the realm of history, but history is always being made and hopefully we will remember this fact. If it happened yesterday, it is already history. This year I have officially worked for the Historical Society 15 years. When I arrived I immediately fell in love with this city I now call home. The charm of the row houses on South Main won me over in a heartbeat. I thought this must be an interesting place to live and I wasn’t wrong!
Now that I have lived here 12 years I have watched businesses come and go, mayors and Council persons come and go., seen DeSales High School close, watched the old Geneva High/Junior High be torn down, observed Finger Lakes Community College create a new building, and delighted as the Smith Opera House got AIR CONDITIONING, and the center of Downtown get a face lift. Geneva is alive and I love it!
As a relatively recent transplant I find myself in the company of others coming here to work and succumbing to the attractiveness of Geneva’s setting and the beauty of the Finger Lakes. Many of us who moved here from other places arrived with no preconceived notions of what Geneva should be like. Whether we moved here for work, for retirement, because we passed through and thought we wanted to stay, or moved back to the city we were raised in, we looked for the best in the area and we found it. We discovered fruit stands, farm markets, cheese trails, artists, small city living, great colleges, opportunities for entrepreneurs, historic buildings, a lovely lake, great parks, breathtaking vistas, excellent food, theater, lectures, entertainment, talented musicians, and craftsman. The openness to the potential of this area often sets “newcomers” apart from lifelong Genevans, who sometimes long for the city they grew up in, but has changed due to economy, migration of businesses, age and people moving out of east coast cities.
The Geneva of the 1950s and 1960s was a bustling city with factories, a workforce, and many businesses large and small. It was a place where people walked or took public transportation as well as drove. There were movie theaters, restaurants, grocery stores, banks, fruit stores, tire stores and furniture stores all in an area of several blocks. By the time I arrived in 2001 much of the downtown businesses had closed or moved to the malls and factories had left the area for economic reasons. I have good friends who still yearn for the Geneva of their youth and for some of them that yearning blinds them to the positive developments of Geneva today.
What is the Geneva of today like through my eyes? What do I see happening here? I see some older businesses still thriving after 100 years, like Lynch Furniture, C. S. Burrall and Son Inc., De Vaney-Bennett Funeral Home and Vance Metal Fabricators, Inc. We also have some vacancies like the ones left by Di Duro’s Shoes and Gilbert’s Jewelers. However, the Smith Opera House, which has changed hands and formats more than once, continues to offer great entertainment triumphing over changing tastes and formats. While we no longer have fruit stores downtown we do have Red Jacket’s Farm Store selling their locally grown fruit and other locally made products. We have successful local entrepreneurs like Cheribundi, Stoney Brook Whole Hearted Foods, Vere Sandals, Lake Drum Brewing, Lake Street Station Winery (among the numerous wineries), many new restaurants, a craft shop and a quilt shop. We also have yoga studios and great gift shops like the Finger Lakes Gifts and Lounge, Earthly Possessions Boutique and Stomping Grounds. There are many businesses that continue to be successful after decades in business like Baroody’s Cigar Store, Neil Sjoblom Photography, Pinky’s and F. A. Church Hardware to name some. Have I named them all? No, partly because the list is long and also I hope people reading this will go and discover our new businesses themselves.
With so many things going on in our revitalized Geneva it is really hard to find a night when there is “nothing to do”, a comment I often heard when I first came to work here. Most nights, especially in the warmer months, there are several events on each evening and people often hate to commit to one event knowing there are more than likely 2 or 3 others they may want to go to the same evening. Such a delightful dilemma!
As l live here longer I hope I am able to keep the Geneva I see today in context, so I won’t long for the Geneva of my memories when things change, as they always do. I hope I can remember that yesterday is history and tomorrow is a mystery and that I can always enjoy the Geneva of today.