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Thursday, January 22, 2015 at 5:33 pm

Book recalls Tony Kutter's efforts to bring cheese business to post-Communist Russia

post by Howard B. Owens in books, business, corfu, Kutter's Cheese, Tony Kutter

Imagine a country with only one kind of cheese. If you can, you're thinking of Russia in the aftermath of the fall of communism.

That was the situation Tony Kutter found on his first trip in 1995 to the former Soviet Union as part of a trade exchange program to help aspiring Russian entrepreneurs learn how to start cheesemaking businesses.

Who better to teach how to make and market more than one kind of cheese than the 81-year-old Corfu resident who is a former owner of Kutter's Cheese, a cheesemaker with a reputation for developing dozens of varieties of cheese.

That's what leaders of the exchange program thought after Kutter volunteered for the assignment and his resume landed on their desks.

It was one of Kutter's suppliers who suggested he apply for the volunteer position.

"He said, 'just send in your resume,' so I did," Kutter said. "I did and as soon as I did they responded right away. 'Oh, this is the one we're looking for.' "

Working through Agricultural Cooperative Development International, Overseas Cooperation Assistance and Citizens Network for Foreign Affairs, all three nonprofit, private organizations based in Washington, D.C., Kutter made 31 trips to Russia over a 12-year span.

Batavia's own Barber Conabel, then president of the World Bank, was among the first to suggest Kutter write a book about his experiences during those many trips.

"He said, 'you've got to write a book,' " Kutter said. "He said, 'I don't know anyone who has been there 31 times and all over Russia.' "

The book is published now and it's called "Cheese in the Time of Glasnost and Perestroika."

Kutter tells the tales, recalls the tribulations and revisits the sometimes sad family histories of the people he met while helping to build cheese plants, instructing cheesemakers on marketing, and sharing with them the recipes for any variety of cheese from munster to gouda to cheese curds.

"I got over there and said, 'geez, you make one kind of cheese and it ain't very damn good,' " Kutter said. "So I took about 20 varieties over from our cheese factory and told them, 'tell me what you want to make and I'll show you how to do it.' "

The organizations sponsoring these missions -- and there were many -- wanted to help Russia transition from a command economy to a market economy and help open up the country to U.S. goods and services. American companies helped sponsor the programs in the hopes of developing a new market.

Goals that haven't exactly been met.

His first mission was to help start a cheese factory in St. Petersburg. This mission was also Kutter's first introduction to Russian bureaucracy and the national penchant to operate on bribery.

Organizations sponsoring Kutter's trips purchased supplies for the new factory and Kutter arrived at the border with the equipment. 

A customs official wanted to know, "What the heck is this stuff?"

It's for making cheese, Kutter told him.

The official went through the boxes and proclaimed, "This isn't humanitarian aid. You falsified the papers."  

The fine was $75,000.

Kutter returned to the U.S. without the new factory in place, but when he returned a few months later, the factory was ready to start making cheese. All of the new equipment was installed and ready to go.

He wanted to know how it happened.

"Let's not get into that," he was told. "That's not for you to know."

Kutter added, "everything in Russia is predicated on a bribe. It's still that way."

Sadly, the St. Petersburg factory went bankrupt after two years, but others Kutter helped start are still operational.

In his travels, Kutter was often invited into the homes of his Russian hosts and he often quizzed the older Russians about life under the former Soviet regime.

When Stalin died, Kutter was serving in the Army in Korea and he remembers reading in "Stars and Stripes" about people weeping in the streets, so he asked one old Russian gentleman, "did you cry when Stalin died?"

The man said, no. He wasn't really all that saddened by the brutal dictator's death.

The man told Kutter, "I put spit in my eyes so it looked like I was crying."

Kutter had dinner with a woman whose husband was taken to Siberia during Khrushchev's rule.

The couple had eight children. The man's crime? He took a bag of grain so he could feed his family.

The mother wrote her husband every day, but never got a reply.  They assumed the letters were getting to him, but that he wasn't allowed to respond.

In 1975, after Brezhnev became chairman, she received a letter informing her that her husband "had been killed unnecessarily." The package contained all the letters she had ever sent him.

"I can tell dozens of stories like that," Kutter said.

In the town of Perm, Kutter helped establish a cheese factory and taught the owners how to make a great variety of cheeses, all of which most Russians had never even tried.

He told his hosts that with these great cheeses ready to sell, they needed a way to market them. Thinking of the booming tourist business Kutter's has always done in Pembroke, Kutter suggested they set up a sample table at City Hall. 

As a condition of the permit, Kutter had to speak Russian. Fortunately, he had hired for the plant in Pembroke a woman who was a Russian translator, and she had been tutoring him on his Russian.

"I can speak enough Russian," he told them, "to say, 'I'm from America and I'm working at this cheese plant right here in your city and we developed these new variety of cheese and so perhaps you can try some and tell me what you think.' "

The people came out of the woodwork, Kutter said.

"One woman said to me, 'why are you giving all this stuff away?' " Kutter said.

He told her, "We want to introduce it to you."

She replied, "In Russia, if somebody is giving something away, it usually means it isn't any good."

The Russians liked the free cheese, but that didn't mean they were buying cheese at first.

"I asked one woman, 'would you buy this cheese?' and she asked me what we were selling it for, and I told her, and she said, 'you know, I'd really like to but, no, I wouldn't buy it.' She said, 'I don't have a lot of money, so I would save my money and buy a dress because when I go out in public they can see what I wear, but they can't see what I ate.' "

Asked if he felt he had any lasting impact on Russia, or left a legacy, Kutter demurs.

"I'm just a little old cheese maker," he said.

A little later he came back to the question and recalled the time a sales rep came into the Kutter's factory and asked him if he had heard about the cheese curds recall in Russia.  

"I thought," Kutter said, "there never was any cheese curds in Russia until I went there, so I must have had some effect."

"Cheese in the Time of Glasnost and Perestroika," by Tony Kutter, is normally on sale at the Holland Land Office Museum, but they just sold out. More copies are expected soon. 

Tuesday, January 20, 2015 at 10:43 am

Law and Order: Call about suspected drug use leads to arrest

post by Howard B. Owens in corfu, crime, pembroke

Zachary Jordan Franclemont, 20, of Indian Falls Road, Corfu, is charged with criminal possession of a hallucinogenic substance, one gram or more, criminal possession of a controlled substance, 7th, unlawful possession of marijuana and criminally using drug paraphernalia, 2nd. Deputy Kevin McCarthy responded to a suspicious activity report at 12:30 a.m., Monday, at the East Pembroke Arrowmart of a person in a car using drugs. Upon investigation, Franclemont was found in a vehicle allegedly found in possession of cocaine, ecstasy and marijuana. Franclemont was arrested, arraigned and jailed on $20,000 bail. Assisting were Deputy Jason Saile, Sgt. Eric Seppala and Sgt. Greg Walker.

Sunday, January 18, 2015 at 8:24 pm

Photos: Corfu installs 2015 officers, hands out awards

post by Howard B. Owens in corfu, Corfu Fire Department

Steve Rodland, with the trophy, was named Firefighter of the Year for the Corfu Fire Department at the department's annual installation dinner on Saturday night. Pictured with Rodland, Greg Lang, Brian Schollard and Dean Eck.

This year's firematic officers are: Eck, chief; Schollard, 1st assistant; Lang, 2nd assistant; Brian McMartin, senior captain; Ben Trapani, Brad Lang and Mitch Bates, captains; Bernie Fix, fire police captain; Rachel Bozzer, Glenn Eck, Rob McNally, Rodland and Dan Smith, lieutenants. McMartin is the safety officer.

The oath of office.

Ed Fauth, who was honored for his 60th year with the department, received the fire service Person of the Year award.

Kristen Gaik was named Rookie of the Year.

Sunday, January 11, 2015 at 4:25 am

Arrest made in hit-and-run that claimed life of Corfu man

post by Howard B. Owens in corfu, crime, pembroke
Matthew Jurek

Matthew A. Jurek, 26, of Pembroke, has been charged with leaving the scene of a fatal pedestrian accident, according to the Buffalo News.

Jurek was allegedly involved in an accident Saturday that claimed the life of Francis A. Meldrum Jr., 38, of Corfu, who was walking on Indian Falls Road in Newstead when he was struck by a vehicle.

A passerby found Meldrum's body in the roadway.

From the Buffalo News:

An unidentified passenger in the suspect’s pickup at the time of the hit-and-run is cooperating with investigators, the Sheriff’s Office said.

“After Jurek struck Mr. Meldrum with the vehicle he was operating, he fled from the scene and left Mr. Meldrum lying on the side of the road,” Erie County Undersheriff Mark Wipperman said in an afternoon news conference.

Jurek was reportedly with a group of people that night.

Monday, January 5, 2015 at 8:34 pm

Corfu man killed in hit-and-run in Newstead

post by Howard B. Owens in accident, corfu

The man killed in a hit-and-run accident in Newstead has been identified, and he's from Corfu.

The victim was 38-year-old Francis A. Meldrum Jr., according the the Erie County Sheriff's Office.

A passerby reportedly found Meldrum's body in the roadway along Indian Falls Road shortly after midnight.

Authorities believe either an SUV or truck hit Meldrum, but are not ruling out a passenger car. There were apparently no witnesses and no physical evidence to help identify the vehicle was found at the scene.

The Erie County Sheriff's Office is offering a $1,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the driver whose vehicle hit Meldrum.

Monday, January 5, 2015 at 8:54 am

Law and Order: Arrests made in alleged assault case in Le Roy

post by Howard B. Owens in batavia, alexander, corfu, crime, Le Roy

Ricky N. Porter Jr., 24, of Gilbert Street, Le Roy, and a 16-year-old male from Brighton (name not released by Le Roy PD), were charged with assault, 3rd. Porter and the teen allegedly punched another person numerous times, causing facial fractures, swelling and lacerations. The victim required hospital treatment. The teen was also charged with criminal mischief, 3rd. It's alleged that after turning himself in at Le Roy PD headquarters, he punched a window, damaging the window and hurting himself. After being treated for the injury, he was arraigned on both charges and jailed on an unspecified amount of bail.

Renee L. Coughlin, no age provided, of Bergen, is charged with DWI and criminal possession of a weapon, 4th. Coughlin was stopped by State Police in Olean. During the investigation, troopers allegedly found she was carrying a stun gun.

Joseph B. Hogan, 75, of Corning, is charged with federal criminal tax fraud, 4th, and possession of unstamped cigarettes. Hogan was stopped on Route 77 in the Village of Corfu by Officer Michael Petritz for allegedly driving 47 in a 35 mph zone.

William James Bick, 25, of Dorman Road, Batavia, is charged with DWI, driving with a BAC of .08 or greater and driving left of pavement markings. Bick was stopped at 2:33 a.m. Dec. 27 on Oak Orchard Road by Sgt. Thomas Sanfratello.

Laticia S. Anderson, 29, of Wilson Street, Rochester, is charged with harassment, 2nd, and menacing, 2nd. Anderson was allegedly involved in a fight at 16 Bank St., Batavia, at 10 p.m. Sunday. She was jailed on $1,000 bail.

Katie Rose Wishman, 29, of Ross Street, Batavia, is charged with petit larceny, possession of a hypodermic instrument and criminal possession of a controlled substance. Wishman is accused of shoplifting from Dollar General. She was allegedly found in possession of a hypodermic needle and a small amount of crack cocaine upon her arrest.

Cody David Cutitta, 28, of Broadway Road, Alexander, is charged with criminal possession of stolen property, 4th, petit larceny, identity theft, 3rd, and forgery, 3rd. Cutitta allegedly used a credit card without authorization to obtain goods and services at two locations in the City of Batavia and one in the Town of Batavia.

Crystal L. Marsceill, 34, of Oak Street, Batavia, was arrested on warrants for alleged failure to appear on an aggravated unlicensed operation charge and on a grand larceny charge. She was jailed on $5,000 bail.

UPDATE: Marsceill was also arrested in Wyoming County. Marsceill was reportedly a passenger in a vehicle stopped at 2:58 a.m. Saturday on Route 19, Warsaw. A deputy asked for her name and birthdate to perform a warrant check and was told she would be arrested if she lied about the information. Marsceill allegedly gave an incorrect first name. The deputy found a felony warrant for her arrest out of the City of Batavia. She was charged with false personation and turned over to Batavia PD.

Erica M. Raphael, 30, of Oak Orchard Road, is charged with petit larceny. Raphael allegedly stole merchandise from Dollar General.

Casey J. Halsey, 34, of Silver Lake, is charged with aggravated harassment. Halsey was arrested in the Town of Batavia by State Police for an alleged incident reported at 10:30 a.m. New Year's Day. Halsey was held on an unspecified bail. No further details released.

Andrea L. Osborne, 30, of Albion, is charged with DWI and driving with a BAC of .08 or greater. Osborne was stopped at 10:20 p.m. on New Year's Day in the Town of Batavia by State Police.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014 at 10:38 am

Law and Order: Early morning disturbance on Maple leads to a pair of arrests

post by Howard B. Owens in batavia, corfu, crime, pembroke, Stafford

Andrea M. Gray, 36, of Maple Street, Batavia, is charged with harassment, 2nd, criminal mischief, 4th, criminal tampering, 3rd, coercion, 1st, and obstruction of governmental administration. During an incident first reported at 2:12 a.m. Saturday at a residence on Maple Street, Gray allegedly tore the shirt of a roommate during a fight. She then allegedly attempted to interfere with the arrest of a person accused of violating a court order by having contact with her. She allegedly attempted to coerce police officers to release the suspect by threatening to harm herself if he was not released. Gray was jailed without bail. Gray was also charged with petit larceny for allegedly taking the mobile phone of a roommate Friday and not returning it.

Russell R. Miles Jr., 46, of East Main Street, Batavia, is charged with criminal contempt, 1st. Miles was arrested following an investigation into a disturbance reported at 2:12 a.m. Saturday on Maple Street, Batavia. Miles has a previous criminal contempt conviction within the past five years. He was ordered held without bail.

Jeremiah J. Cieszynski, 27, of Warsaw, and Sally M. Sims, 24, of Warsaw, are charged with petit larceny. Cieszynski and Sims are accused of stealing clothing and sneakers valued at $125 from Kmart.

Bashard L. Joiner, 21, of Rochester, is charged with two counts of criminal trespass, 3rd. Joiner received a suspension letter from GCC on Oct. 9 and told he was not permitted on campus property. During November, Joiner was allegedly spotted several times at College Village by safety officers and video surveillance. On Dec. 10, Joiner was located in the cafeteria on campus and placed under arrest by State Police. He was jailed on $300 bail or $600 bond.

Jeannette Kathleen Moore, 44, of West Avenue, Batavia, is charged with grand larceny. Moore is accused of stealing from Kmart while employed at the store.

Katie R. Wishman, 29, of Osterhout Avenue, Batavia, is charged with assault, 2nd, criminal possession of a weapon, 3rd, endangering the welfare of a child, criminal possession of a hypodermic instrument and criminal possession of a controlled substance, 7th. Wishman allegedly hit another family member in the face with a mug causing an injury. This act was allegedly committed in the presence of a 3-year-old child. During the investigation, police allegedly found heroin and needles. Wishman was jailed on $10,000 bail.

Kelly A. Hasenauer, 50, of Webster Street, Batavia, is charged with falsifying business records. Hasenauer allegedly signed a fake name to a business record at UMMC's ER in an attempt to defraud.

Linda L. Snyder, 32, of Central Avenue, Batavia, is charged with harassment, 2nd. Snyder allegedly threatened to fight another person at 5 p.m. on Dec. 9 at the Richmond Memorial Library.

Debra Elizabeth Webster, 46, of Route 20A, Warsaw, is charged with DWI, driving with a BAC of .18 or higher, unlawful possession of marijuana, speeding and failure to signal. Webster was stopped at 12:23 a.m.  Friday on Noonan Drive, Batavia, by Deputy Joseph Corona.

William James Johnson, 41, of Alleghany Road, Corfu, is charged with DWI, driving with a BAC of .18 or greater, leaving the scene of a property damage accident, speeding and failure to keep right. Johnson was allegedly involved in an accident at 9:22 p.m. Saturday on Route 5, Pembroke, which was investigated by Deputy Joseph Corona.

Matthew Alan Hoye, 23, of Woodcrest Drive, Batavia, is charged with unlawful possession of marijuana. Hoye was arrested following a check of a roadside vehicle at 12:26 a.m., Saturday.

Peter James Curts, 25, of Main Street, Caledonia, is charged with unlawful possession of marijuana and failure to stop at a stop sign. Curts was stopped at 11 p.m. Thursday on Parmalee Road, Le Roy, by Deputy Joseph Corona.

Brett W. Short, 28, of Le Roy, is charged with unlawful possession of marijuana. Short was charged by State Police following a traffic stop Friday morning in Batavia.

Arthur Robinson, 60, of Raleigh, NC, is charged with DWI in a commercial vehicle and driving with a BAC of .08 or greater. Robinson was stopped at 10 a.m. Sunday by State Police on Clinton Street Road, Stafford.

Monday, December 15, 2014 at 12:48 pm

Law and Order: Attica man accused of altering prescription

post by Howard B. Owens in Attica, batavia, Bethany, corfu, crime, Oakfield

David R. Cook, 20, of Lindsey Road, Attica, is charged with forgery, 2nd. Cook allegedly altered a prescription in an attempt to deceive a pharmacy into giving him more medication than original prescribed. Cook was jailed on $10,000 cash bail or $20,000 bond.

Daniel W. Hennebohl, 59, of Bethany Center Road, East Bethany, is charged with criminal mischief, 4th. Hennebohl is accused of scratching a car with a key while in the Walmart parking lot at 11:48 a.m., Sunday.

Nancy Ann Bennet, 44, of Center Street, Medina, is charged with petit larceny. Bennet is accused of shoplifting at Kmart.

Christina M. Sanchez-Anderson, 26, of Bank Street, Batavia, was arrested on a warrant for alleged failure to appear. Sanchez-Anderson is accused of failing to appear in court on a grand larceny charge in October.

Daniel J. Saeva, 35, of Central Avenue, Batavia, is charged with strangulation, 2nd, criminal mischief, 3rd, endangering the welfare of a child, harassment, 2nd and assault, 3rd. Saeva is accused of putting his hands around the next of another person and shoving another while in the presence of three children during an alleged incident reported at 9:01 p.m., Friday.

Donya M. Vaughn, 48, of Richley Road, Corfu, is charged with issuing a bad check. Vaughn was arrested on a warrant issued by City Court.

Carter L. Hall, 37, of Oakfield, is charged with DWI and driving with a BAC of .08 or greater. Hall was stopped at 9:10 p.m. Friday at Route 63 and Veterans Memorial Drive by State Police.

Sunday, December 7, 2014 at 6:26 pm

Friends and neighbors rally around Corfu business owner who lost everything, but gave so much to her community

post by Howard B. Owens in corfu, fire, pembroke

The tears were gone. She had no more, said Renee Franclemont in the midst of a conversation yesterday about the fire that destroyed her business in a barn on Alleghany Road, Corfu, an hour before sunrise Thursday morning.

The fire consumed more than $20,000 in inventory, killed 17 chickens, devoured a season's worth of hay and straw, and turned a grand and well-aged barn into ash and rubble.

Franclemont grew up in Corfu. She is the daughter of a former Corfu fire chief and a mother who was a volunteer EMT.

She knew all the firefighters Thursday morning, and they knew her.

"It was sad," she said. "They felt helpless."

The old farmhouse 100 paces to the north of the barn, was built in 1890 and added onto over the years, has, of course, been the home to families, as it is now to Franclemont, her two boys, two girls and partner Clinton Konfederath. It has housed the Rarick law firm and accommodated countless guests as a bed and breakfast.

Four years ago Franclemont bought her house and the 14 acres of land that go with it because she loved the barn.

"I moved to this house because I wanted my barn," Franclemont said. "I wanted that barn. My kids all know. We moved in and I didn't even unpack boxes. I went into that barn and I set to cleaning the barn. I wasn't even thinking about a business. I wanted the barn."

The structure was even older than the house and functioned as a co-op antique store formerly owned by Gemma Rarick in the 1980s and 1990s. Back then, in red letters made of wood slats affixed below its peaked roof was the official business name: "The Barn." The words, bold and artful, were eight feet tall and could be seen hundreds of yards away by travelers heading north on Route 77.

To avoid any sign ordinance issues, Franclemont called her business "The Farm" and kept the same lettering nailed to the gray, asphalt shingles that at some point were installed as siding on the oldest end of the building.

Nobody insures businesses housed in 150-year-old barns. Franclement tried to have it insured, and for a time it was, for just $29,000, which Franclement felt was well below its real value.

"That's all they would insure it for because it was that old," Franclemont said. "They didn't look at it like you and I look at a barn. They looked at it as rough and horrible. We look at it and think, 'that's perfect.' "

When the insurance company realized there was a licensed business in the barn, the policy was yanked and all of her pleas for coverage went unheeded.

The Farm is truly a family business. Franclemont and Konfederath run it, of course, but all four children help out.

Austin, 19, and 15-year-old Dakota, both work there. Austin was last year's leading scorer and an all-league player on Pembroke's soccer team, and is now a student at GCC. His brother was a slender-framed punter on the football team, who walked into the kitchen Saturday dressed in camoflauge with a rifle slung over his shoulder (he bagged two rabbits that afternoon).

They can be left alone at times, Franclemont said, to run things if she needs to tend to errands.

Never left alone, but adept at sales and operating the cash register are Montana, 11, and Sawyer Mae, 6.

Montana is the real chicken farmer in the family. A chicken whisperer, her mother called her. Blonde, popular at school, into gymnastics and cheerleading, Montana keeps herself and her mom busy.

Only a week ago, Montana seemingly saved a chicken that appeared ill and unlikely to survive. The girl took the bird in her arms, wrapped it in warm cloth and held it while sitting in the store.

"We didn't think the chicken was going to make it and the next day it was running around, so she must have saved it," Franclemont said.

Sawyer Mae has no less energy than her older sister, but it's not always directed at school. She's a bit of a tomboy who favors plaid shirts, purple pants and cowboy boots.

"She could probably run the business by herself," Franclemont said. "She's the one who wants to miss school so she can pick pumpkins or just work around the farm or in the store."

As we spoke, visitors dropped by and popped in here and there. Some brought hugs, others clutched cards stuffed in bulging white envelopes. They entered the family room and adjoining kitchen and dining area through the back door off the gravelled driveway.

The visitors were tenderly welcomed into her home, which is decorated much like you might expect from a woman whose business is also her life. 

The flat-screen TV sits atop a black wood and cast iron 19th Century sewing machine table, so big it must have come from a Gilded Age factory. On the opposite wall is a wooden, weathered round-rung ladder that was carried from the old barn to adorn the family room wall. At one point, Franclemont took a plank from the barn and painted in white the words  "Bed and Breakfast" on it, to honor one of the prior businesses in her old house. That hangs above the couch.

The white-curtained dining room window faces south. The driveway and a small, bridge-covered creek separate the house from the cement foundation of the barn. Tom Konfederath and Rick Claire spent most of the previous 48 hours using backhoes and loaders to knock down and haul away the burnt, charred and twisted ruins of the barn. Clinton was out there breaking up cement so it, too, could be taken to a dump or recycling center.

Everybody thought it a good idea to get rid of the debris as quickly as possible so the Corfu Fire Department wouldn't be burdened with an endless string of rekindle calls.

All that remained of the store's inventory after the fire -- save produce kept in a cooler that just by coincidence and for no reason at all had a fireproof door -- was black ash or melted and mangled beyond recognition.

The inventory came from seven consignees, all but one a Genesee County resident. Almost everything they sold was repurposed from something old: Milk canisters with handpainted farm scenes; spiffed up 19th Century hand tools to hang on walls; lanterns that once lit the way but are best used these days as a "needful thing"; antique bed headboards converted into benches; and wood from other long lost barns cut sign-size and handpainted with clever and wise aphorisms.

In the home-decorating industry, the stock is called "primitive." It's the kind of baubles and curiosities that appeal to Western New Yorkers whose magazine subscriptions include "Yankee" and "Traditional Home" more so than "Dwell" and "Atomic Ranch."

The fire started in the chicken coop. We know that because that was the only thing with flames showing after Franclemont and Konfederath were awoken around 5 a.m. Thursday by a man pounding on their back door.

The chicken coop was newly constructed and purposefully placed next to the barn.

The kind of customers drawn to The Farm love farm animals. After acquiring some more chickens from another farmer who wanted to get rid of them, it seemed like a good idea to build the chicken coop closer to the customers.

"We made this big beautiful coop," Franclemont said. "I wanted it closer to the barn because my customers love to see the chickens walk around. That's part of it. They love my pig and they love the chickens and I wanted the chicken coop close to the barn so the customers see all that. A lot of kids would go over and open the thing and check for eggs."

Somehow, while 17 adult chickens perished in the fire, 11 young ones (bigger than chicks), survived.

When they were hauled from the fire, the 11 babies were unconscious and laying on their sides. Franclemont thought they were dead, but when she shook them, the soot-covered fowl sprang to life.

When you're under stress and you see your life going up in flames, time passes slowly. Seconds seem like minutes, minutes like hours.

It seemed, Franclemont said, like it took forever for the first fire trucks to arrive at her barn on the Route 33 side of Cohocton Road.

Corfu Chief Dean Eck arrived on scene, as chiefs do, before the fire trucks.

"He felt helpless," Franclemont said. "We're both standing there just waiting for the trucks to come."

Konfederath does all the farming for the family business. He grows produce sold in the store, the corn with stalks that make for handsome decorations in the fall, the thousands of pumpkins sold in October, the hay and straw that was stored in the barn's loft, awaiting shipment to horse farm customers.

"Some firemen were showing up and I was saying, 'it can't get to that hay,' " Franclemont said. "If it goes up the wall and gets to where we store hay and straw, we're done. It hit the hay and it was like lightning -- woosh -- and it lit up the whole barn. It was gone."

As flames licked the side of the barn, Franclemont was frantic to save what she could from the business. She grabbed the cash box and then went back for some of her books. When she wanted to go in again, this time for the records of her consignees sales, a deputy stopped her. After some arguing with the deputy and the chief, they agreed to let Konfederath go in and see if he could grab the records quickly.

When he opened the door, the heat rushed out. There were already flames in the store and a black velvet curtain of smoke billowed in his face. It was too late to save anything more.

The tragedy of fire trails a painful, draining and difficult summer for Franclemont.

In June, she was in an ATV accident and tore up her knee pretty bad. Following surgery, she was driving something a little less adventurous than a four-wheeler. She needed a Hoveround to move through the house and in the shop. Even so, her work time was limited.

Then she developed spinal meningitis. That meant more hospitalization.  

In September, she needed knee surgery again, so more time on crutches and less time working in her shop.

"I finally got back to work and I was enjoying stuff and painting again and opening the store up because that's me," Franclemont said. "That's what I want to do. I didn't want somebody else to do it."

During her convalescence, Franclemont received plenty of help. Most of her consignees pitched in and kept the store open, including Franclemont's friend, consignee and employee Lauryn Brick, who put in a lot of hours helping Franclemont with her business and her life, including raising funds from the community to help with Franclemont's uninsured medical expenses.

Of course she helped, Brick said. Her friend does so much for the community without ever asking anything in return.  

She helped organize fundraisers for Austin Heinemen, the Pembroke teen and cancer patient who inspired Austin's Army, even going "Bald for Bucks." When another friend was in her own ATV accident a year ago, Franclemont helped raise funds to assist. 

"This girl will help anyone," Brick said. "You can ask anyone in our community."

Getting back to work was so very important to Franclemont. She immediately started building furniture again, and her father, Richard Franclemont, who also builds primitive-style furniture, added more inventory to her store.

Last week, Franclemont drove down to Pennsylvania and brought back a trailer full of unfinished Amish furniture.

Three days before the fire, she and Konfederath completed adding two more rooms to the shop for all the new inventory.

It's only a matter of happenstance that saved the recently purchased Amish furniture. A relative needed to use her large trailer, so all of the furniture was unpacked and hauled down to the house basement for storage.

The saved furniture gives Franclemont a step forward toward opening a new store in the same location in the spring.

She and her partner have already started planning the new building. It will be a pole barn with hemlock siding and a metal roof.

"I'm never going to get that look again of the inside of my barn," Franclemont said. "I've been to a lot of stores. I'm going to try and make it look as antique and old inside as possible, though I don't know how we're going to do it. I don't like this new building look in a new store. I don't want that. I think once we put our furniture in there and our consigner stuff, it will create that feel."

The new barn will sit further back from the road because Franclemont, for the sake of children's safety, was always uncomfortable with how close the rows and rows of pumpkins would sit to Route 77. There will also be a lean-to for better display of produce. The big amenity the old barn lacked was a bathroom for customers. The new barn will have a bathroom.

If that sounds promising, like an upgrade, Franclemont isn't fooling herself into thinking it will be better than her old barn, with its notched, hand-hewn beams and aged wooden walls and sense of time and place that can only be created over the space of decades.

"This is an opportunity to do something new, but I was happy with just the way it was," Franclemont said. "I would rather have that barn than a new building any day. I'm sure we'll be better and everything will be fine, and we'll have some things we didn't have before, but I can't replace the barn."

News of the fire spread fast in the era of digital media. There were so many people offering help, or just a kind word.

The morning of the fire, Linda Richley, from Linda's Family Diner, already had 40 breakfast sandwiches made for firefighters when Al Graham showed up to see what he could get for the crews. She also delivered boxes of coffee.

In the fire's aftermath, the Reynolds family from Reyncrest Farms pitched in to clean.

The folks at Alleghany Farm Services provided transportation for the heavy equipment used in the cleanup.

The Farm's Facebook page was flooded with messages from well-wishers. Her phone was buzzing with phone calls and text messages. At one point, her friend Tricia Heinemen took the phone away from her and told her to go sleep.

There's so many people Franclement wants to thank. All of the letters for her marquee sign she kept along the edge of the roadway were destroyed by the fire, so with black spray paint she wrote, "Thank you / Everyone / XO."

"How do you thank everybody?" Franclemont said. "I tried to keep up and I can't. I know I've missed somebody. I don't even know what to say."

Lauryn Brick said she's overwhelmed by the thought of all that her friend lost, and how she poured her heart and soul into her business, only to see it destroyed in a matter of minutes by a chicken coup fire.

"She needs to rebuild everything that was so tragically taken from her," Brick said. "She has four children that she also provides for and to think, this happened during the holidays."

Brick, along with Renee Everett, have set up a GoFundMe account seeking community donations to help Franclemont rebuild and take care of her family.

Franclemont is unaccustomed to being the person on the receiving end of other people's charity. 

With her eyes still puffy from days of crying, and despite her thought that she had no more tears to shed, when she sat at her kitchen counter and recalled the outpouring of support from her friends and neighbors, the skin around Franclemont's eyes reddened and glistened again with tears.

She didn't want her picture taken once she started crying again.

"I'm not good at taking stuff from people," Franclemont said in her normally clear, alto tone, but then her voice went up an octave. "I'm the person," she said, voice breaking. "I like to give. I don't want people giving me stuff. I want to give to people.

"In my family, we do stuff for people," she added with the tears continuing to stream down her face. "I don't want people doing stuff for me. There's much worse off people than me. My friends have cancer. My friend was just in an accident. They're bad. I'm not bad. I have a house to live in. I'm not sick. I'm not fighting for my life. Those people need my help, not me. I know my community knows that, that I don't want any help. I know they're going to do it anyways because that's the way they are. Anybody that knows me knows that it's hard for me to take anything from anyone."

The way Brick sees it, her friend may not be asking for help, but she needs it.

File photo of Renee Franclemont in her store from 2012.

File photo of "The Barn" from September, 2010.

Thursday, December 4, 2014 at 9:01 am

Local business in Corfu barn destroyed in early morning fire

post by Howard B. Owens in corfu, fire

A business simply called The Farm, that featured antiques and locally handcrafted items, was destroyed this morning when a fire broke out inside.

The cause hasn't been determined but an early guess, officials said, is that the fire started in a chicken coop area were heat lamps were used.

Owner Renee Franclemont lives in the house next door and a deputy had to stop her from going inside once the fire was already well involved because she wanted to save the business's financial records.

The alarm for Corfu fire was sounded about 5:45 a.m. 

Chief Dean Eck said when he arrived on scene there was still only light flame from one end and one window, but the black smoke was heavy. The fire spread fast inside the old 19th Century-era barn.

Mutual aid departments included East Pembroke, Pembroke, Indian Falls, City of Batavia, Alabama, Darien and Alden. 

Previously: Locally grown and locally made items featured at new store in Corfu

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