The Truth about TrumansburgMar 01, 2023 09:00AM ● By Karey Solomon
On a late winter afternoon, Trumansburg’s sunny Main Street, otherwise known as New York State Route 96, bustles with people and cars. In a traffic lull, the strains of an unseen bagpiper can be heard across Trumansburg Creek. The sunny atmosphere owes little to the weather. It’s more what natives and visitors sometimes call the Trumansburg “vibe.”
At the east end of the village, just past the school, the fairgrounds are the venue for the Finger Lakes GrassRoots Festival of Music and Dance in July, and in August the Trumansburg Fair. At the west end of the business district is the village park, host for Trumansburg’s farmer’s market each Wednesday, May through October. Between them is a thriving business district, somewhat concentrated in a four-block area between Washington Street and South Street, though residents are quick to point out there’s a lot more to see hidden in plain sight.
It’s been said many times that Trumansburg has three sorts of residents blended into one cohesive community. There are families whose names are immortalized on street signs. Others are affiliated with one of the area’s many colleges, but prefer a rural lifestyle to an urban one. And then there are those who just sort of arrived and decided to stay.
“We’re the third category,” jokes Cornell professor Sam Nelson, whose wife, retired physician Veronica Guiry, owns One Green Horse books at 9 East Main. A sign on the door explains the store is open “Open by appointment, invitation & by serendipity.” When the open sign is out, it’s well worth a visit.
“We always wanted a bookstore, and we found the perfect spot and a perfect landlord,” he says. Above burnished oak shelves of carefully curated used books is a gallery of photos taken by his landlord, Ben Guthrie. Outside there’s decorative ironwork ornamenting the shop front. This witty story-in-iron created by retired local blacksmith Durand Van Doren follows the day of a happy bird nesting above a flower-decked clock tower who begins the day with coffee, has a cup of tea in the afternoon, and a mug of beer at five. More of Durand’s ironwork can be seen ornamenting the balcony and patio overlooking the creek behind the Trumansburg branch of Gimme Coffee, 7 East Main, which Ben describes as “the community’s living room.”
Trumansburg, from its earliest beginnings, specialized in farm-to-table cuisine. A few years after Abner Treman (the town named for Abner was officially changed from Tremansburg to Trumansburg by the post office in 1811) took possession of his Revolutionary War land grant here, the town boasted mills, mercantiles, churches, farms, and a plethora of inns, hotels, and taverns—too many, one historian noted a century ago. Today, from the Falls Tavern at the town’s east end to Ron Don’s (the juicy, thick burgers are recommended) and the Atlas Bowling Alley at the west end, the town abounds in amazing places to eat.
Main Street Market, at 21 East Main, is a place to get fresh organic produce, breads from the renowned Wide Awake Bakery, and a snack to take home to augment your dinner—or dinner itself. “I love coming here,” says Ithaca resident Helena Cooper, who drove to Trumansburg to take photographs of then-frozen Taughannock Falls. “It has such character, and the food they offer is always changing.”
“We’re rural but not out of touch,” says chef Matt Hummel, a native son who purchased Hazelnut Kitchen, at 53 East Main, late last year. “This is a very intelligent community.” Also one, he notes, that appreciates food made the old-fashioned way, from scratch. He makes his own breads, pastas, and butter, and says, “Everything has a local slant—apart from the seafood.”
On the other side of the street, at 4 West Main, a red-white-and-blue sign indicates Creekside Café, where legendary and hearty breakfast and lunch is served for eating in or taking out on baguettes, buns, rolls, focaccia, or gluten-free bread.
“Some of the best bistro food you’ll find anywhere,” Ben says.
Fabrizio Gangi, owner of New York Pizzeria at 2 West Main, came to Trumansburg straight from Italy twenty years ago for love, this after meeting his American wife when she traveled through Italy. He bought the pizzeria seventeen years ago and has created several pizzas that have become locally popular, including his chicken-and-bacon combo and a Spanish-influenced pizza featuring feta cheese.
At 49 East Main you can find more Mediterranean foods at Little Venice, including a variety of classic Italian foods featuring homemade pasta, submarines, wraps, burgers, and sandwiches.
Garrett’s Brewing Company, 1 West Main, is where the house-brewed beers and locally-produced cider and soft drinks complement a menu that seems, in part, to pay homage to the former Rongovian Embassy, a bar and eatery that occupied this space for more than forty years. If you didn’t already know it, you’d find out from the inscribed plaque set into the sidewalk, which identifies what was behind many of the storefronts in earlier times.
One institution that seems to have been around nearly forever is the Gemm Shop, a resale shop at 17 West Main that was established in 1970 to fund band uniforms. These days the volunteer-operated store raises upwards of $28,000 annually, donated back into a variety of community projects. Donations and consignments tend to be good quality and sometimes unusual; they’re mostly clothing but also housewares, Halloween costumes, and jewelry.
At 51 East Main, the other end of town, is the Homespun Boutique, a yarn and sewing supply business that flourished in Ithaca for nearly fifty years until proprietor Julie Schroeder opted to relocate. Enthusiastic customers followed, and new ones found her.
“Everyone is welcoming,” says Julie, who sees her role, in part, as helping people on the path of their projects.
There are always more places to explore, including occasionally-open second floor artist studios where people are quietly crafting products that travel the world, an airy, welcoming library, and a playground built like a kid-sized village with a bell children can ring.
“There’s a lot of overlapping circles and a lot of pride,” Ben says. “And when you hear that bell ring, you know it’s a vital community because there are kids here, too.”