DRYDEN, N.Y. — According to Elsie Gutchess, the best way to have a good birthday is to work really hard at making your own birthday present. For her eighty-fifth birthday last Wednesday, Gutchess decided to celebrate by inviting the town to the grand opening of her new retail store, Elsie’s Emporium of Dryden.
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Situated on Main Street in Dryden, at the heart of the local business district, Elsie’s Emporium sells a range of products, from brand-new merchandise to antiques. Gutchess bought the building from the Dryden Town Historical Society over two years ago and has been renovating it ever since.
Gutchess said that while opening the store has been a dream of hers for several years now it has been a labor of love not only for her benefit, but for the benefit of the whole community.
“My family came to Dryden in 1948 when I was in the fourth grade,” Gutchess said, “I loved it. Everybody would look out for everybody else. It was wonderful because it was community. I would like to have that sense of community back.”
A history in Dryden
Gutchess was one of the founding members of the Dryden Historical Society in 1981 and was recently honored for her 40 years of feminist contributions with the Cortland YWCA. She said that she is optimistic that more shops will open in Dryden that will help make the town a destination that people want to visit.
“My whole point is to get people to come to Dryden and see what’s here. There’s something like 10,000 commuters a day who drive by. We’re hoping to pull some of them in,” Gutchess said.
Gutchess said that in recent years, the sense of community in Dryden has weakened, in part, because of where people are choosing to spend their money. She expressed concern that when locals buy merchandise from the Internet or at a national corporation like Wal-Mart, money leaves the community and the local businesses suffer.
“The public needs to be educated. We’re fighting big things like Wal-Mart and Amazon and the casinos, which siphon off people’s expendable income until they don’t feel as if they can support the little businesses. Yet, it’s the little businesses that keep communities going,” Gutchess said.
A grand opening
At the grand opening of Elsie’s Emporium, several Dryden locals were hopeful that a new shop on Main Street would enhance the commercial prosperity of their town. Betsy Cleveland, the “Mistress of Ceremonies” at the Emporium’s grand opening and a ten-year member of the Dryden Historical Society, said that Dryden’s business district has experienced a lot of turnover, some empty stores and a general lack of supply in recent years.
Dryden resident Martine Sherwood noted that, “The business district has been flat. I’ve seen a few businesses come and go in the 12 years that I’ve been here, so it’s nice to see someone take over the old historical building and turn it into a shop.”
Sherwood said that she believes Elsie’s Emporium will be a good addition to the shops already situated on Main Street because the merchandise is unique and it “brings a certain amount of class to the location.”
Tompkins County Chamber of Commerce President Jennifer Tavares said that she commended Dryden residents like Gutchess for their efforts to support downtown revitalization and small business expansion.
“Dryden is a small community which has been collectively trying for years to grow new business and retain existing business in its downtown. Keeping small businesses in the core of a tight-knit community like Dryden is crucial to the economic future for towns like this across upstate New York,” Tavares said.
‘Sometimes you have to let life happen’
Like Gutchess, Tavares said that there are many advantages to shopping locally instead of using the Internet or traveling to another community to shop.
“Shopping locally helps ensure that your dollars support the local economy first, are spent primarily supporting the work and wages of your neighbors and even generate important sales tax revenue for your community and our county,” Tavares said.
Gutchess described the style of her store as funky, fun, busy and interesting. She hopes that Elsie’s Emporium will give the people of Dryden a local alternative to going to the mall or shopping online for gift ideas.
Jodi Schreiber, a sales associate and one of the designers at Elsie’s Emporium, said that the shop also sells upcycled merchandise. Upcycling is the process of reusing or repurposing previously unwanted or broken products like glass jars, picture frames or books. In this way, Gutchess is able to make older items apart of the current economy.
“We found some items that were lovely, but we were not able to bring them back to their original glory,” said Schreiber.
“So we have to do something a little different, like repurpose [them]. With me, it’s the books. I’m able to make wreaths and other merchandise out of old books, which keeps them out of landfills.”
Other business owners in Dryden expressed their support of the new addition to the business district. Arron Bound, the general manager of the Dryden Café, said that the new store could result in an increase of customers for him.
“If someone stops at one business for long enough and they get hungry, they might look for options of places to eat within the community,” Bound said.
Gutchess also said that she is hopeful for the future of her new business.
“I tell people that if I had had a business plan I couldn’t have done it this well,” Gutchess said, “Sometimes you have to let life happen and take advantage. Keep all of your options open and do your homework because you don’t know what’s around the corner, whether you’re 18 or 85.”
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