And Over in Andover...Mar 01, 2023 09:00AM ● By Gayle Morrow
Walking into Main Street Emporium at 44 South Main in Andover is like walking into the house next door. You know, the one where those interesting people live. It’s welcoming, comfortable, somewhat eclectic, and the prospects are decent that you’ll end up with a good, hot cup of coffee and something yummy to eat. On this day, the offerings include tomato/basil soup, grilled ham and cheese, grilled turkey and cheese, and a savory chicken/veggie/rice wrap. There are baked beans in the oven, and Wellsboro’s Highland Chocolates are available for purchase at the register. If you’re puzzled when you come in through the front door (it really is as though you’re entering someone’s dining room), the people already there will direct you to the cups and the help-yourself-to-java station.
The big old building housing the Emporium used to be a newspaper office—home of the Andover News, says Dave Thorp, who runs the Emporium with his wife, Mel. They bought it around twenty years ago as they were getting ready to retire from jobs as traffic controllers (i.e. flaggers). The thought at the time, he recalls, was “Oh, should we make a stupid move?” The couple has other obligations, some of them familial, so they can’t keep the business open all the time; it’s best to call (607) 478-5009 before you head over. But when it is open, it’s a bit of a hot spot.
“We call it a service organization,” Mel says, keeping a weather eye on those baked beans. Dave, meanwhile, talks about the walls of old pictures in the room at the back of the building, pictures that show some of the Andover that used to be. Lots of the old buildings are gone, he says. There was a train station that was disassembled and rebuilt somewhere else, there was a hotel that burned, there were silk mills that are now gone, there were once a hundred dairies in the surrounding community, but the milk plant is now closed. The theater with the second-floor ballroom, however, is now a thriving mini-mart.
“It’s like a lot of small towns,” in that “regular Main Street businesses,” started losing customers and declining, says Steve Walker, who owns and operates the wildly successful Walker Metalsmiths. His shop, at 4 South Main, is just down Andover’s short Main Street—you can see it from the Emporium’s front porch. He’s back from a gem show in Tucson, Arizona, and has stopped in the Emporium for coffee, food, and a meeting. He reminisces with Dave about the old pictures and the places they show that aren’t here anymore. Steve returned to Andover in 1984, and says “that was probably Main Street at its worst.”
But good news—“Since then, it seems like every year somebody improves something,” Steve continues.
He gives as one example the physical therapy office next to his own Celtic jewelry shop. It’s not a traditional retail business, but it works as a Main Street storefront, bringing people into the downtown and keeping a building open and thriving.
Andover, which is a village in the town of the same name, was first settled around 1807, incorporated in 1892 (the town had been formed in 1824), and sits at the junction of New York State Route 21 (Main Street) and New York State Route 417, in Allegany County. It’s a fairly straight shot and about an hour’s drive from here to Corning, and some folks do live in Andover and commute to the Crystal City. Native sons include Thomas Allen, a politician who became secretary of state for Wisconsin, and Patrick Henry “Patsy” Dougherty, an outfielder who was the first major league player to hit two home runs in a World Series game. The village is something of a bedroom community for Wellsville, Hornell, and Alfred, Steve muses, but there are several little “almost invisible,” albeit successful, businesses on its nearly-two-block Main Street. Those include a property leasing company, a place that manufactures some of the products needed to make candles, and a business that makes ceramic cookware from shale originating from nearby Alfred.
The more observable (you can stand at one end of the street and see to the other end) Main Street businesses include Gaylord Guns and Ammo, at 34 S. Main; the Village Pub, at 5 Main, which has continuously been a restaurant for over 100 years; the library; a couple of hair salons; and, at 20 Main, Andover Medical Center, which is a satellite of Rochester’s Strong Memorial Hospital. Steve says that another building, now in the throes of a restoration and re-purposing, will soon become a restaurant.
“Down around the corner is a really good hardware store,” he adds. The Andover Central School District buildings are just east of Main Street, and that proximity helps with “village vitality.” The first Maple Festival since covid is scheduled for April at the school.
“There really isn’t much of a vacant building situation on Main Street right now,” he continues. “I think we’re doing better than most. The main thing is to keep the heritage of the buildings intact and keep them useful and viable. We need to find a way to stabilize it [Main Street] and keep it attractive.”
A community’s “attractiveness scale” is based on more than one thing. Steve points out that “everybody keeps their sidewalks clear,” and that “there are no horrible eyesores,” factors which are, of course, important. But more important are the people and their relationships with one another. He relates a real estate story that happened a few years ago—it involved a complicated exchange of Main Street and other downtown properties, and the sincere desires of the individuals involved to ensure the community ultimately benefited.
“Everybody just trusted everybody,” he says, and everything worked out fine.