ITHACA, N.Y. — In the last six years, the building next to the Green Street Pharmacy has housed Gimme Coffee, Lou’s Hotdog Stand, and, most recently, Bonjour Café. All have closed or moved out.
The Shack, a café and sandwich shop that opened last week at 131 East Green Street, is trying to defy the trend and stay in business by accommodating those who frequent the area most.
“Our patrons are the people who are riding the bus, people who don’t have $15 or $20 to spend on lunch,” said Cody Towner, who has lived in Ithaca for 12 years and owns the new shop.
In Ithaca, purchasing power is weaker than anywhere else in upstate New York (largely because of housing costs). To combat this, Towner says he is trying to serve “a demographic in Ithaca that doesn’t get catered to: the low-income demographic.”
Tommy Hawk, who works at The Shack, said that after other businesses there failed, he, Towner, and another friend, “thought we’d try something a little different.”
The shop sells a wide variety of products—sandwiches, hotdogs, paninis, coffee, smoothies, and more—while keeping prices low: there is nothing on the menu that costs more than $5. The location helps keep costs down, according to Towner, who said that if the shop were on the Commons, “rent would be 10 times higher and so would our prices.”
The Shack is in TCAT’s Green Street Station, and people are free to sit in the building and use the bathroom without ordering any food. For years, TCAT has leased a section of the station to various vendors so that people waiting for the bus can also grab a snack while they wait.
While the station has been criticized in the past for being somewhat grimy, Towner has worked to change that. When he worked at Bonjour Café before it closed, he cracked down on repeat offenders who would, for example, use the bathroom inappropriately.
Towner said he was able to secure the lease for The Shack partially because management noticed his successful efforts to create a clean and accepting atmosphere, and that he hasn’t had a problem with the new shop.
“We wish Cody all the very best in his endeavor with ‘The Shack,’” said Dan Tome, TCAT’s purchasing and projects manager. “Furthermore, TCAT strives to keep Green Street Station as clean as possible with regular custodial cleaning and we are assured Cody will be able to supervise and thwart any alleged misuse of the facility.”
“I want to make this place safe for everyone to wait for their bus without a problem,” said Towner. “My goal is to be friendly to everyone,” even if that means “a cup of water and a bathroom key.”
For my part, I’d recommend that people try “The Shackwich” on their next lunch break.
To learn more about the restaurant, check out Facebook.com/TheShackInIthaca