Students returning to Ithaca to begin classes last week may not have been too surprised to find that the downtown Commons has continued to expand with book stores, coffee shops, and eateries. There are some unique additions targeted at pets and artists alike — People and Animals with Style (P.A.W.S.) and The Sea Spa Gallery are just two noteworthy additions.
The Commons now boasts a new fountain that area-residents agree contributes to an observable change in the presence of the center of the Commons.
The fountain was completed a week before Memorial Day according to Calvin Ray, assistant owner of Logos Books. Reaction to the fountain has been overwhelmingly positive.
Allison Andersen of Ithaca highlighted the increase in pedestrian traffic and people sitting, reading, and socializing as a result of the new fountain.
“I think it looks terrific. It opens the Commons up in a way that was not previously possible. I think it enables the overlying architecture of the Commons to be appreciated more now than before,” Andersen added.
“It’s such a simple structure that causes delight with so many people across different age brackets,” commented Adriana Paska, a junior at Ithaca College.
Patty Sipman of Ithaca disagreed, exclaiming that the fountain seemed to be almost store-bought and left a lot to be desired.
Along with the changes in landscaping came progress with new store offerings and overall appeal aimed at attracting more residents and college students alike to the Commons.
P.A.W.S. celebrated its grand opening on Aug. 24. The store holds an ample selection of products for dogs and cats from treats and toys to collars and whimsical items that, according to store owner Jay Sciarabba, may or may not be breed specific.
“I think the fact that there is nothing on the Commons like us gives us a unique position,” Sciarabba said. The store plans on working with the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals in addition to offering massage and grooming demonstrations.
“Ithaca is a very pet-oriented town. I have seen [that] pet stores like this in Syracuse and other upstate areas do extremely well because they’re different- after all, we’re not just going to be another coffee shop,” Sciarabba noted.
One coffee shop that promises to stand out and not concede to popular opinion of standard, conventional coffee operations is Cafe Strand.
The shop is a tribute to the original building circa 1920, which was a theater torn down in the 1980’s due to a lack of funding and a desire for a parking lot, according to store manager Mia Menter. It opened at the end of July and provides fresh coffee and espresso ice cubes.
Formerly known as Silverbird, the store remains committed to serving the same great-blend coffee that has proven to retain the current clientele, Menter explained. “I haven’t changed the recipe for our coffee because I know the value of our current blend,” Menter remarked.
The cafe attracts both seasonal and permanent residents and students to its downtown location and hopes to start showing movies within the next few months as a tribute to the former Strand Theater, according to Menter.
In addition to the cafe, the month of July witnessed the opening of an art gallery on the Commons. The Sea Spa Gallery places an emphasis on local art and allows Ithacans both young and old a chance to showcase their talents for a nominal fee. Operated by Cafe Strand manager’s sister Michelle Menter, the gallery’s goal is to “show the work of unseen and emerging artists by encouraging community and dialogue. We are a primary outlet for artists that are just beginning their creations,” Michelle Menter commented.
The space has expanded and relies solely on public support and donations. Thirty percent of the art commission goes towards keeping the store open while the individual artist receives the rest of the profit. “We hope to have approximately two benefits a month as part of our fundraising goals,” Menter said.
The gallery, which is in the process of applying for non-profit status, asks for a one to two dollar entry fee and a three dollar donation for all nightly events that are featured throughout the week. Menter remarked that the gallery caters to a younger crowd, staffed by 40 volunteers that would “ordinarily be on the Commons anyway,” she noted.
Logos bookstore, formerly in the current Autumn Leaves space, closed on Jan. 31 when the building was purchased, according to assistant owner Calvin Ray. “We bought the business after the building was sold and we didn’t have the option to stay in the old store. Autumn Leaves had already negotiated the deal,” said Ray. The shop, one-third the size of its original space, is now in the former McDonald’s location on the Commons, and opened for business on May 26.
Additionally, two more stores opened within the past few months. Elements is “for your senses” and has hours from Monday through Saturday. It includes candles, cards, gifts, incense (shoyeido- Japanese flair incense), decor and gifts.
Conkies, a new Caribbean restaurant, features “comfort food with a caribbean beat.” It is open daily for breakfast, lunch and dinner and features salads, sweet treats and entrees of chicken, catfish, steak and ribs.
Archived article by Chris Westgate