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Thursday, April 18, 2013 at 10:47 am

Insurance company refusing to pay for damage to former Pontillo's in Le Roy

post by Howard B. Owens in business, Le Roy

The best estimate John Pontillo has received so far for repair of the former Pontillo's Pizza location in Le Roy is $33,000.

The building was damaged Aug. 6 when it was struck by a car owned by Marie Costa.

Costa's insurance company is apparently denying a claim for damage to the building under something known as the "emergency doctrine."

In New York and other states, a person is not liable for injury or damage in an accident if a person is "faced with a sudden and unexpected circumstance, not of their own making, that leaves them with little or no time for reflection."

What exactly happened that caused Costa's vehicle to careen over a curb and ram into the Pontillo's building seems to still be a matter of medical dispute, but from John Pontillo's interpretation of what he's been told by Costa's insurance company, she died prior to the accident so the company isn't responsible for any claims.

Costa was insuranced by Adirondack Insurance.

The way Pontillo sees it, Costa was driving the vehicle before any sort of medical condition arose -- if one did -- and therefore Adirondack should pay up.

"Like others have said, she is the one who put the car in motion and there was damage done before the car finally came to a rest," Pontillo said.

When Costa's car hit the building, it dislodged a large limestone brick from the archway by the front door. The repair will require extensive safety measures to keep other stones from cracking or falling.

Meanwhile, Pontillo has foreclosed on the property, claiming substantial debts to himself from the Elizabeth Pontillo estate. The property will go up for auction, but Pontillo fears with the damage it won't even sell.

The more the building sells for, the more of the estate's debts (which Pontillo said are substantial to himself and others) can be paid.

If the building doesn't sell, John Pontillo is stuck with a heavily damaged building that he can't use without repairs.

He's thought in the past of opening another pizzeria at the location, but with the damaged building, that isn't possible.

The condition of the building is also a major concern to the village, according to Mayor Greg Rogers.

Pontillo said Adirondack has refused to pay Le Roy for damage to a planter and signs. Rogers said he isn't even thinking about that claim.

"I would much rather worry about getting that building back in shape," Rogers said.

The village is working with its insurance company, Tompkins, to try and resolve the dispute.

One option for Pontillo would be to sue the estate of Costa. He doesn't really want to do that to her family, but such a suit might force Costa's family to sue Adirondack. He's hoping the family will put pressure on Adirondack to settle with Pontillo. He suspects -- though can't prove -- that Adirondack paid the family for a claim on Costa's car.

We requested a statement from Adirondack on the case but have yet to hear back from the company.

Thursday, April 18, 2013 at 10:45 am

BID announces annual luncheon and Spirit of Downtown awards

post by Howard B. Owens in batavia, BID, business, downtown

Press release:

The Batavia Business Improvement District will hold its annual meeting and awards luncheon on Friday, April 26, from noon to 1:30 p.m. (registration is at 11:45 a.m.) at the City Church Generation Center, 15 Center St. in Downtown Batavia.

The agenda will include a review of the B.I.D.’s accomplishments and the announcement of the newly elected members to the Board of Directors.

The “Downtown Spirit” Business Awards are to be presented to: Michael DelPlato & Peter Casey of DelPlato & Casey Law Office, Howard Owens of The Batavian, and Harry Wortzman of Wortzman Furniture.

The “Downtown Spirit” Volunteer Awards are to be presented to: James Isaac (Crossroads Abstract), serving as B.I.D. vice-president and on the Organization Committee and Michael Marsh (Edward Jones Financial), serving on the BID Promotion / Taste of the Holidays committees. 

Guest Speaker: Patrick Finan, Founder & Principal of Block Club (Buffalo-based branding and marketing agency). His topic will be:  Downtowns and the Importance of Building Strong, Local, Living Economies.”  Patrick business was named "The Third Fastest Growing Company In WNY" and he's the youngest recipient of Business First 40 Under 40 Aaward. 

All B.I.D. members and area business are invited. A special buffet will be served at T.F. Brown’s. Price is $15 per person. RSVP and payment by Monday, April 22. To make reservations contact Don Burkel, B.I.D. Director, at 344-0900 or e-mail at  dburkel@downtownbataviany.com.

Thursday, April 18, 2013 at 7:54 am

Study finds that GCC has about a $169 million economic impact on local economy

post by Howard B. Owens in business, economy, GCC

A recent study released yesterday by Genesee Community College finds that the college has about a $169.1 million impact on the local economy.

Kjell Christophersen, Ph.D., president and founder of EMSI, discussed the study yesterday at GCC and said regional spending by former students, the college and out-of-the-area students adds positive growth to Genesee County's economy.

“Things are good. Things are very good," Christophersen said. "The impacts have actually grown since the last time we worked here (about 2 ½ years ago) and it's attributable to a more efficient allocation of resources."

Christophersen said that in his experience about 60 to 70 percent of students at community colleges stay in the region.

“If you move up the education ladder from one level to another level," he said, "you earn a lot more, and therefore, pay a lot more in taxes. It behooves the citizens of a particular county to continue to support the college because of the fact that they are getting a more educated workforce coming back to reside in the region and pay more in taxes.”

(via WBTA)

Tuesday, April 16, 2013 at 10:02 am

GCEDC reschedules COR public hearing to accommodate requests for evening meeting

post by Howard B. Owens in batavia, Batavia Towne Center, business, GCEDC

Press release:

The Genesee County Economic Development Center (GCEDC) announced today that the public hearing on the COR Development project application, originally scheduled for Tuesday, April 23rd at 4 p.m., has been rescheduled to April 30th at 7 p.m. to accommodate requests for the meeting to be conducted outside of normal business/working hours.

“The GCEDC strives to be a transparent and accommodating agency so when we get these types of requests we do everything we can to honor them,” said Charlie Cook, GCEDC board chairman. “It’s evident that this project has generated quite a bit of interest so we want to make sure that the community has the opportunity to learn more about the project and have their voices heard.” 

At the meeting, the GCEDC will provide a comprehensive overview of the project – including the benefits COR Development is applying for to develop the vacant Lowe's building – as well as a full disclosure of the fiscal and economic impacts the Batavia Towne Center has had on the surrounding community since it came to fruition. Following the presentation, the hearing will be open for public comment; the GCEDC also will read any written comments received by the agency prior to the public hearing.

Written comments can be sent to the GCEDC’s Marketing and Communications Director, Rachael Tabelski at Genesee County Economic Development Center, 99 MedTech Drive, Suite 106, Batavia, NY 14020.  Written comments must contain the individual’s contact information, including address and phone number, and should indicate if he or she would like the comment read at the hearing. All comments and public hearing testimony will be reviewed by the GCEDC board prior to a vote on the COR Development application for support.

Saturday, April 13, 2013 at 11:30 pm

Photos: Chamber presents 2012 awards

post by Howard B. Owens in business, Chamber Awards

The Genesee County Chamber of Commerce held a gala at the Clarion Hotel this evening to honor its 2012 award winners.

Above, Barb Toal accepts an award on behalf of Friends of the Batavia Peace Garden.

Jim Neider accepting his Genesean of the Year Award.

The award winners, Lois Gerace, Jim Neider, Jeremy Liles, Tim Call, Karen Green, Carol Grasso and Barb Toal.

Below, our stories about the winners:

To purchase prints of these photos, click here.

Thursday, April 11, 2013 at 11:13 pm

Oliver's Candies is Business of the Year

post by Billie Owens in batavia, business, Chamber Awards, Oliver's Candies

This is one of a series of articles highlighting the winners of the Genesee County Chamber of Commerce awards for 2012. The awards gala is Saturday evening at the Clarion Hotel.

Whether it's the salty, sweet perfection of Cashew Glaze, colorful Christmas Ribbon Candy or the unique regional favorite Sponge Candy, Oliver's offers treats that are handmade, high quality and tasty.

For 81 years now, the Batavia landmark has built a loyal following that, aided by a robust online presence, today includes customers everywhere from Irondequoit to Korea, France to Corfu. Oliver's Candies, LLC, is the Genesee County Chamber of Commerce 2012 Business of the Year.

Located at 211 W. Main St., the Swiss-chalet-style building is where founder Joe Oliver lived and operated his candy shop. It had add-ons built in the '50s, '70s and major upgrades a couple of years after John and Sheila Quincey bought it in 1998. Sheila's son, Jeremy Liles, came on board in 2001 and is general manager.

"It's exciting being named Business of the Year and we appreciate the recognition of other business people," Liles said.

He credits his parents and staff, past and present, with Oliver's continued success.

"I didn't build this business to where it is today," Liles said. "My parents took a business that was doing OK in the '90s -- it was surviving -- but they just made it boom. They put their own money into it. They said this is something that can really grow and do a lot."

In 2000, the candy-making facility was completely revamped. The size of the retail store was tripled -- now it's about 3,000-square-feet -- and the size of the kitchen was doubled. There are no ovens. All the candy is made using commercial-grade, air-induction stoves and giant copper kettles. In 2002, "a full-blown ice cream parlor" was cranking out cones of ice cream blended especially for Oliver's.

Making candy isn't like running a restaurant. Although goods are being made fresh all the time, the process is more like manufacturing and can be done in shifts. And there's a shelf life, unlike what comes to a cafe table hot on a dinner plate.

But as with restaurants, running a successful candy operation requires "a lot of devotion." And the toil and talent of a capable staff.

"Those guys in the kitchen make it happen," said Liles, who is 38 and the father of three. "They're the backbone of the business."

A number of employees have spent a good chunk of their lives working at Oliver's.

Bob Pacer, with about 34 years of service, and Bonnie Battaglia, with about 33, both retired earlier this year. Their knowledge of candy and customers and their skills are no doubt sorely missed.

Then there's retail manager Diana Cuttita, with 20-plus years, and Beth Diegelman, 33-plus years.

"Beth can hand-temper chocolate," said Liles, with a little awe in his voice. "I can't do that, a machine can. But her hands are just cold enough to be able to get just the right consistency by hand."

It takes years to learn that kind of stuff. In fact, it takes about 10 years to become a master candy maker and it's typically learned through apprenticeship.

Ron Drock, who worked at Oliver's for 51 years, learned from his predesessor and he taught current master candy maker and longtime employee Doug Pastecki. Adam Horton is the assistant candy maker learning all he can from Doug.

There are currently about 15 full-time staff people and 15 part-timers, including seasonal workers, high school and college students, and crews for nights, weekends and summer.

"Thank God for them," Liles says, noting that they get to hone some practical math skills like counting back change, converting ounces to pounds or the fact that there's three teaspoons in one tablespoon.

As for increasing sales, Liles says two factors are key (A) consistent store hours and (B) having a successful online shopping site.

"We're open from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., seven days a week, and we're only closed on Christmas Day and Easter Sunday. If you're not open, how can you sell?"

Their online sales have soared. Online is a great way to expand sales without going the brick-and-mortar route.

In addition, they are selling favorites like Merry Mints, French Creams, Sponge Candy and Cashew Glaze wholesale to national catalog order companies, something which has "become huge" for them.

In terms of challenges, besides small business depressors like high taxes and  minimum wage increases, commodity fluctuations can have an impact on them. Higher prices for sugar and cocoa, for instance, are somewhat offset by product-line diversity -- no-added sugar products, savory snack mixes, and candies that don't require chocolate.

"If something happens on the Ivory Coast because of politics, it can affect us because that's where our cocoa is coming from. Normally it's not a problem because the United States imports so much of it; we can get our hands on it. But we're not as big as Hershey's. They have their own plantations. We depend on small growers.

"So if our costs shoot up, we're not like the gas station across the street -- we can't raise and lower our prices all the time. We (small business candy makers) have set a standard -- we're the same price as anybody else in Western New York."

"Some people don't understand that and they go in Oliver's and say 'This is expensive. I can get this cheaper at Walmart.' But it's really a different ball game altogether. We're dealing with really high quality products, no preservatives, fresh made. There's a huge difference. I think people realize that and that is why our customer base is what it is and growing.

"I think people are acquiring the taste for finer chocolates, finer wines, whatever, and (the trend of) Shop Local."

And Oliver's does shop local whenever possible, whether it's buying dairy products from Oatka, kitchen wares from Batavia Restaurant Supply, or seasonal produce from Harrington's and farmer's markets.

Liles is encouraged by Batavia's potential and what lies on the horizon and says the future looks sweet. Things already are at Oliver's.

Thursday, April 11, 2013 at 10:59 pm

Agriculture Business of the Year: Empire Tractor

post by Howard B. Owens in batavia, business, Chamber Awards, Empire Tractor

This is one of a series of articles highlighting the winners of the Genesee County Chamber of Commerce awards for 2012. The awards gala is Saturday evening at the Clarion Hotel.

In Tim Call's mind, there's little separation between the success of Empire Tractor and the hard work and dedication of the company's employees.

Whether it's sales or customer service, the conversation with Call either starts or ends with praise for Empire's 112 employees at six Central and Western New York locations.

"We have some of the most friendly and knowledgeable people in the industry," Call said.

Eighteen years ago, Call acquired a company on East Main Street Road, Batavia, then known at Tri-State Tractor. Through growth and partnerships, Tri-State became Empire and is one of the most successful farm equipment companies in the region.

Customers of Empire range from people with just an acre of land to farmers with 10,000 acres of land, Call said. The company doesn't handle push mowers or weed eaters, but the guy with just an acre of lawn to mow can get a nice zero-turn rider while the largest grain farmer in the area can buy the biggest tractor you can imagine.

In May, 2011, Empire moved to a bigger facility on East Main Road that gave Empire more room and paved surfaces that makes the whole business look more attractive.

"Everything is clean and everything just displays so well," Call said. "It's given us a whole different image and it's helped us increase our sales."

The entire service operation is now under one roof, Call said, which helps improve efficiency.

Even with the better facility, it's the people at Empire who make the sales process work, Call said.

"We want a sales process that is easy and fun and not too hard," Call said. "People buy from people and we try to remember that. When a farmer comes in, however much money he's spending, that's a lot of money to him to spend and we want him to feel happy and comfortable and satisfied that he got a reasonable deal."

Some employees have been with the company for more than 30 years, and that's saying something, Call said, especially for those who deal with farmers who had a piece of equipment break down.

When a farmer has to come into the shop because of a broken tractor or broken combine, it means he or she is not out in the field plowing or harvesting or herding. It means work that must get done isn't getting done.

"It's the employees who take care of customers every day," Call said. "A farmer comes in because he's broke down and he's not happy. There's a lot of thankless chores and when you're dealing with a guy who's beating on you and you're trying to be happy and upbeat, well, our guys are pretty darn good at that."

Good employees and a pleasant experience are so key to success in the competitive farm equipment business, Call said.

"Most of our business is referral, and if a customer has a bad experience, he's not going to come back and he's going to tell his friends," Call said. "We've done everything we can to try and make it easy for people to do business with us."

Thursday, April 11, 2013 at 5:19 pm

Public hearing set on incentives for COR Development

post by Howard B. Owens in batavia, Batavia Towne Center, business, GCEDC

A public hearing has been set for COR Development's request to receive financial assistance to renovate the former Lowe's location in Batavia Towne Center.

UPDATE 7:40 p.m.: The hearing has been rescheduled. It is now at 4 p.m. April 23 at Batavia Town Hall. (It was previously set for April 22.)

COR is seeking nearly $1 million in tax incentives for the project.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013 at 10:59 pm

Special Recognition of the Year: St. Joseph Catholic School

This is one of a series of articles we will run over the next three days highlighting the winners of the Genesee County Chamber of Commerce awards for 2012. The awards gala is Saturday evening at the Clarion Hotel.

St. Joseph School has been around since 1873 and currently has an enrollment of 300 students from pre-K through eighth grade. The Catholic elementary school employes 14 full-time teachers, four part-time teachers, six full-time aides, six support staff and two school nurses.

Karen Green has been a part of St. Joe's school for 17 years. She started out teaching first and second grade and has been the school's principal for the last seven years. She has witnessed much change in those 17 years. However, the school's mission of teaching faith, academics and service has always remained the same.

Green says, "We are an option for families that are looking for something different. If they want that Catholic and Christian-centered education we are here to give that to them."

She says she is very proud of St. Joseph students. Their work habits, their character and how they treat each other make the teachers' jobs very easy.

Academics and service are what make St. Joseph students stand out.

"I often hear from high-school teachers and administrators that they love getting St. Joe's kids, they have good work habits and they participate in class. Knowing that they leave here doing that is a great feeling," Green says.

Chad Zambito, who has been working at St. Joseph's for the past year running their marketing campaign, nominated the school for the special recognition award. After walking through the halls of the school and seeing the kids and their families, Zambito realized that it was different at St. Joe's. It was a special place.

"They have a strong tradition of supporting the community while struggling to make ends meet," Zambito says. "The school continues to find ways to expand programs like advanced math and sciences along with athletics and music while other institutions have been cutting their programs."

St. Joe's gets very little funding from the state.Tuition and enrollment are very important. "It's what we are used to, we have always done more with less," Green says. 

The parents also play an important role. They help with raising funds by volunteering to work at Friday night bingo, the Mammoth sale, fruit sale, Walk-a-thon, Popcorn Ball, and the Penny Carnival. According to Green, "Those big events give us enough money so that we can give our kids and teachers extras like iPads and SMART Boards to work with. We've tried to make the technology really important here and I think that's how we stay afloat."     

In Genesee County, St. Joseph School is the last remaining Catholic elementary school. St. Mary's closed in 2004 and St. Anthony's in 2006. 

Last year, with the closing of Holy Family School in Le Roy, St. Joseph School had to deal with an influx of about 100 students. "We had a couple of tough months over the summer last year trying to prepare," Green says. "We had mixed feelings and it was bittersweet, we felt bad their school had to close and we know what it would have been like and it very well could have been us put in that position." 

St. Joe's hired six aides and two teachers to accommodate the larger class size. Next year they will be looking for a part-time teacher for their Earth Science class at the middle-school level. 

Looking forward to the 2013-14 school year, the first, third and fourth grades are full and have a waiting list. Kindergarten is filling up fast with only five spaces open. At the middle-school level, sixth, seventh and eighth grades are all open.

Parents who have enrolled their children in 3- and 4-year-old preschool can take advantage of the school's Wrap Around Program which was started two years ago. Green says this program has taken off. It's for parents who need an affordable safe place to take their kids after the half day pre-school session.  

Green says her group of teachers, aides and support staff are amazing. They go above and beyond every day. Some run the After School Program, some are involved in extracurricular activities like Drama Club and Art Class and all are available after school each day to provide support for students and parents.

"It takes a special person to work here, to put that much time and dedication in and they do it on a daily basis. The salary is not like in the public school systems," Green said.

Each school year there will always be challenges. Green thinks that is not always a bad thing. 

"St. Joseph School will always be looking to improve in every aspect," she says. "We just don't want to sit back and say things are working well the way they are. You have to always be looking forward to the future. We are always trying to think ahead to make our school stronger and I think that's why we continue to do what we do here." 

For more information on St. Joseph School at 2 Summit St. in Batavia call 585-343-6154 or check out their Web site at www.sjsbatavia.org/

Photos by Howard Owens.

Karen Green

Wednesday, April 10, 2013 at 10:33 pm

Innovative Community Contribution of the Year Award: Friends of the Batavia Peace Garden

post by Alecia Kaus in batavia, business, Chamber Awards, Peace Garden

This is the first of a series of articles we will run over the next three days highlighting the winners of the Genesee County Chamber of Commerce awards for 2012. The awards gala is Saturday evening at the Clarion Hotel.

When Barb Toal went on a sightseeing trip to Rome, Italy, with her sister six years ago, she sat in a beautiful garden across from the Colosseum to rest for a few minutes. At the time she had no idea what the garden was, only that it was a wonderful peaceful spot to sit and take a break.

Fast forward two years later to 2009.

Barb is sitting in the living room of Paula Savage, president of the International Peace Garden Association, who is trying to convince Barb to help set up an International Peace Garden commemorating the War of 1812 in the City of Batavia.

As the two women sat discussing the project, Paula had a laptop on the coffee table running pictures of International Peace Gardens from around the world. Barb froze when she saw a photo of the beautiful garden she remembered sitting in a few years earlier on her trip to Rome.

After scrolling through a few more of Paula's photoss, Barb recognized another garden she visited the following year after her trip to Italy -- in Dublin, Ireland.

"It's pretty ironic. I've been to two of them now. This is a no-brainer. I gotta get involved," Toal said.

Being president of the Holland Land Office Museum at the time, she thought this would be good use for the vacant land to the east of the museum and a good way to bring more people in to visit the Holland Land Office."This is a great fit, a perfect fit," Toal thought. The idea was now planted.

She then solicited the help of longtime friend Carol Grasso. The two have been friends since ninth grade and both graduated from Pembroke High School together.

"I just knew I had to be a part of it," Grasso says.

"This community, we knew since we were little, would come together to make this happen," Toal added.

Armed with seven solid volunteers, the group now referred to as "Friends of the Batavia Peace Garden" went to work. After four years of meetings, fundraising, and solicitations, they were ready to make the garden a reality.  

Running into many obstacles along the way, the project had to be accomplished one day at time. The electric wiring and digging through the base of Walnut Street and the old bridge was a stopper.

"After the electric meeting we were whipped. We thought, 'we can't do this and it's not gonna happen,' Toal said. It was like climbing a mountain, I slipped went down 10 notches then had to go up another 10 again." She said she learned a lot about patience over those four years.

Toal said they knew what they had to do, but had no money. It was amazing how the community came out to help. There were 15 landscaping trucks in the prime season that showed up and volunteered to revamp the once-barren land.

Martin Dilcher, of Dilcher's Excavating, who nominated the group for the award, was driving by the work in progress one day and spotted Barb using a jackhammer. She was making her way through layers of old buildings and solid rock to create a 5-foot hole in the ground for the electric and base for the globe. Dilcher yelled out to her, "What are you trying to do kill yourself ?" Dilcher showed up at 9 a.m. the next morning with a backhoe to help out.

When Toal needed someone to make the giant metal globe she turned to her neighbor Rob Barone who is a welder. He didn't know what she really wanted.

Toal made a trip to BJ's Wholesale and purchased a glass globe in a box and showed it to Barone. She also handed over a few pictures of one located in the Town of Lima. Barone then solicited the help of Patrick Waite, and together they created the globe that is currently on display at the Garden.

According to Grasso, "There were a lot of ups and downs. We didn't think we were going to make it, especially moneywise, but we did it."

She says people can't wait to help out and fund-raise now.

The Friends of the Batavia Peace Garden will be holding their third annual fundraiser dinner to be held at Terry Hills April 27th. They are planning a fashion show and are honoring Joe Gerace and Carolyn Pratt this year.

May 11th they will be having a birthday party and celebrate by raising the 23 flags for the year. It will be a community day from 11 a.m.-6 p.m. Everyone is welcome to come out and join in the festivities.  

The Batavia Peace Garden commemorating the War of 1812 is stop number 13 of 25 on a 600-mile trail that runs through Canada and the United States. Batavia became the rallying point in the War of 1812. British forces burned 200 homes in Youngstown, many families then relocated to the Batavia area to take shelter.

Three more gardens were added to the trail last year. All are located in the Thousand Islands region of New York State. Brussels, Belgium, will be the location of the next garden. It will be created in 2014.

Toal says the group has plans on expanding the Batavia Garden in 2014. They want to extend the grounds to include the area behind the Genesee County Courts facility near the falls of the Tonawanda Creek. They will add more flags and possibly a gazebo.

Toal, who is now retired, says she is more busy now being president of the Friends of the Batavia Peace Garden. She says, "It hasn't been a hard road, just a long road to get to this point."

"To think what we've done in a couple of years, it's humbling to think we got this award," Grasso says. "It's was worth every drop of sweat that we had. All the hard work, the back-breaking digging. It's amazing."  

Anyone interested in buying a brick or path stone can contact Barb Toal at 585-344-2548 or e-mail her at btoal@ rochester.rr.com.

The group also has a new Web site, bataviapeacegarden.org.

Photo by Howard Owens. From left, Barb Toal, Mary Ellen Wilber, Carol Grasso, and Berneda Scoins.

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