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Mountain Home Magazine

At the Heart of the Finger Lakes

Mar 01, 2024 09:00AM ● By Karey Solomon

Longtime resident Minda Hopkins, who works at the Flower Cart at 134 Main, which has been in business close to eighty years, recounts a recent event that happened via the village Facebook page. Shortly after a resident wrote in requesting firewood for an elderly neighbor experiencing family financial and health challenges, more firewood than requested showed up at the neighbor’s house, as well as donations of food and home-cooked meals. “It’s a friendly place and people want to be helpful,” she says.

One yearly fundraiser serves a sit-down dinner at a very long custom-made table stretched across the Main Street bridge. Last year the Community Dinner, held the first Saturday in September, served 180 people food from over twenty area farms, wineries, breweries, and restaurants, and raised $16,200 for the Yates Community Center. Chefs prepare locally sourced meat and produce while lucky folks sip drinks and listen to area musicians. It’s a time for busy citizens, business owners, and community leaders to socialize and celebrate their home. “It’s a very fun event,” says Chamber of Commerce treasurer Kim Hughes, who attended in 2023. “There’s a huge buzz around the dinner, and I felt fortunate to secure a spot.” Tickets sold out in six minutes.

A glimpse of a horse-and-buggy driven by one of the many Mennonite residents often causes visitors to slow down and look around. Penn Yan is the sort of place people envision when they think of living in an old-fashioned village, says Kris Pearson, director of the Yates County Arts Council at 127 Main. (Information on current exhibits and art classes can be found at Most of the buildings on Main Street are old, classic, and lovingly renovated and maintained. The Arts Council building, which retains a huge, shiny-gated vault from its former life as a bank, is a perfect example. “It’s got great bones,” Kris says of the town. “We have a whole bunch of locally-owned, locally-sourced businesses. A lot of people are coming from other places for the fun shopping.”

A little while ago, she asked someone to go to Long’s Cards and Books at 115 Main Street, a few doors down, to pick up a ream of paper. “It’s the closest thing to a general store,” she explains. The errand-runner returned with the paper as well as a plushy flamingo, claiming the temptation was irresistible. Long’s, a long-time business which has been at this location for more than forty years, has all the expected office supplies, a large selection of cards, toys and gifts, and even clothing. “You might find a five-foot-high giraffe down one aisle,” an employee mused. Sure enough, there was one of those too.

Main Street’s oldest business is undeniably Birkett Mills at 1 East Main, the largest buckwheat processing mill in the United States, in continuous operation since George Washington’s presidency. When they’re toasting buckwheat, the aroma wafts through town. Their products are sold across the country under a variety of labels. They made the Guinness Book of World Records on September 27, 1987, when the company made the largest pancake to date at their annual Buckwheat Harvest Festival (no longer held, alas). The twenty-eight-foot griddle on which the pancake was flipped is a sought-after background for visitors’ photo opportunities.

Just around the corner is one of the busiest businesses in the village—The Once Again Shoppe at 100 East Elm. At the thrift shop, operated by the Council of Churches, the multi-floor space offers every item one would need to furnish a house and its clothes cupboards, all at bargain prices.

The real strength of the community is its people. During the pandemic, many who’d previously vacationed here decided to return and work remotely. Of these, a significant number decided to take early retirement and remain. “They’ve been a blessing,” Kris notes. “We have all these dedicated and well-educated volunteers, who’ve relocated here and love the area and chosen to spend their time serving the community as volunteers.”

This community ethic permeates the downtown area. For instance, at the Main Street gift shop known as the Nest Egg, at 125 Main, owner Heather Griffith highlights the work of a local artist whose slightly off-the-beaten-path studio might otherwise be overlooked.

At the Keuka Candy Emporium, 131 Main, confectioner and owner Stacey Ingerick not only creates world-class chocolates, he also dedicates a meeting room at the back of the store to a once-a-month veteran’s gathering featuring cards and free coffee. Look twice inside the former Lown’s Department Store. Many of its original retail accoutrements are now in the Smithsonian Museum, but employees will point out the vestiges of the antique systems.

Long-time, established businesses like Pinckney Hardware at 24 Main and Cole’s Furniture and Floor Fashions at 123 Main are now joined by these newer ones in providing what locals want. “People remember the old days in this town,” Kris says. “When [the Arts Council] came in, people said, ‘Back in the day, you could get anything you needed on Main Street.’ The pendulum has swung back!”

Theresa Hoben, board president of the Downtown Business Council in Penn Yan, puts quite a bit of energy into keeping Penn Yan an interesting destination. The group has begun First Fridays when shops stay open later, the Arts Center celebrates area artists, and live music can be found in many venues. They also sponsor the “Chilly Chili Cookoff” (held during February First Friday) and the annual “Wing Walk” in March. Liberty Restaurant at 221 East Elm defends their title this month, held for two years, of best wings in Penn Yan.

Theresa says the strength of the area can be found year-round in its world-class eateries, many of which celebrate the area’s agricultural roots with farm-to-table cuisine, as well as new breweries. These are the places that come together during the Community Table to put on a good time for a good cause. The Chamber expects tickets to become available at on August 1. They cost $125, and you better be quick to get one.

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