LANSING, N.Y. — Ask Nancy Pace what she’ll miss most about her and her husband Danny’s shop, and she doesn’t miss a beat.

“I’m going to miss the people. We have met so many fun, interesting, great people, great friends. Just from coming into the shop one day. They’ve become our friends. I’m going to have to miss them,” said Pace. “We had a lot of regulars that we just saw all the time, they were always entertaining and fun, and we value having had the chance to cross their path and for the support they’ve given all these years.”

The Hickory Hollow Golf Pro Shop opened its doors July 1, 1992, the product of two years of planning by the Paces. It was a career change for them. Nancy first came to Ithaca as an Ithaca College student, graduating in 1978. After working as a teacher in Elmira, she worked for the city of Ithaca in their Parks and Recreation Department. For Danny, a Cortland native, he began his first career at National Cash Registry on South Hill, before becoming the regional manager for a company out of Boston. The two met when Nancy was a student, and when their relationship blossomed, they exchanged vows in 1983.

But a few years later, when Danny’s company was bought out and trimmed staff, the Paces were left facing a life-changing question – should Danny pursue his work elsewhere, or should they stay in Tompkins County?

“We kinda were spinning our wheels, our families are relatively close. We didn’t want to leave the area, but with his experience, his expertise, for where he was employment-wise we would have had to. So we decided to go in a totally different direction,” said Nancy. “We’ve been avid lovers of golf, and players of golf. I was a caddie for the LPGA for years, and there wasn’t a facility like this in the area, so we decided to give this a try and let’s see what happens in 25 years.”

With 25 years and then some under their belts, the Paces are capping off a successful business endeavor with plans for retirement. Unfortunately, Hickory Hollow, Tompkins County’s only full-service driving range and pro golf store, will not continue.

The driving range closed at the end of October, and the golf store will shut down at the end of December, just after the holiday shopping season. The same goes for Danny’s model train and accessory store, the “Gone Loco Train Shop”, which launched a few years after the golf store and driving range, and is run out of the same building. Like golfing, trains are a passion of his, and it provides some sales activity for the shop during the winter, when golf is hardly on anyone’s mind. Danny’s Christmas train displays would have the little ones mesmerized, “eyes like saucers” as Nancy put it.

Over the decades, the Paces have noticed changes to the sport of golf, and not always for the better.

“Things have really changed in the industry. There are a number of courses statewide that have closed in the general area. Participation has diminished. It’s a new generation. A lot of kids like to play their games on their phones and iPads, we’ve just seen across the board that participation has gone down in the golf business. A lot of the same with trains, which is an internet shopping sensation now,” said Nancy. “But we’ve been successful. We’ve been able to offer the consumer a custom-fitting and customer service. We can let you try something, let you be fit for your game and your golf swing. We found ourselves battling for that, but we’ve been able to survive because of our service. A lot of shops like ours closed down years ago because they don’t really service what they sell, like we’ve done.”

Reviews for the shop online are all positive. One reviewer described it as “simple and unassuming”. There’s a certain charm to be had with that — a place without the pretentious airs and without the flashy image. It was here that the Paces excelled.

Asked for one piece of golf advice, Nancy Pace offers this: “Get some lessons to start with. If you don’t, and you just go out to try and teach yourself, you could pick up some basic bad habits that, when you go down the road, it’s hard to work yourself out of. It could just be the grip, the ball in your stance, some very simple thing that you’d be surprised would make you hit that golf ball so much better before you even swing it.”

Golf might be less popular than it was in years past, but the opposite could be said of the town the Paces have called home. The Paces don’t begrudge their new neighbors; in fact, they’ve welcomed them with open arms.

“It’s so different. All these houses, Ryan’s Way, Murfield, that was nothing but farm fields when we opened. It’s really developed into a nice little neighborhood. We do get play off those, the guys who used to live in the newer houses on Waterwagon and Triphammer, they could walk over to play, they loved it,” said Nancy. “And the soccer club, on any given day, there’s tons of kids down there. That was a cornfield not too long ago. There’s a lot of activity going on up here, it really has grown. It was the perfect property for what we needed.”

Now, it would be remiss to not address the sale of the property, which happened on October 7th. The Paces don’t know what the buyer intends for the land. County records show the 19.29 acres of property at 158 Waterwagon Road sold for $469,500 to Ascending Energy Inc., an energy efficiency consulting firm based out of the Cornell Business Park by the airport. Anything beyond that — energy-efficient building, solar panel farm, and so on – is nothing more than a guess.

While the property’s future is not clear, the Pace’s future is a little more certain. Nancy and Danny are looking forward to retirement, and plan to stick around the area for a little while longer.

“If you own your own business, you sacrifice a lot of things. I’m not going to miss that. We’re anxious to go to weddings and graduation parties. Running a business seven days a week, you miss a lot. We got to start enjoying our life now, ready to go just have some fun ourselves,” said Nancy. “Like if my niece wants to bring her kids down and swim in the pool, and I have to arrange the shop schedule to sneak out for a couple of hours. I’m not going to miss that. If they call Aunt Nancy to ask if they can come use the pool, they can come whenever they want now. I’m looking forward to doing what I want when I want. That’s what retirement is supposed to be all about, right?”

In the meanwhile, the shop is undergoing a liquidation sale through the end of the year – golf equipment, model trains, and the displays themselves. If you’re looking for a golf ball souvenir from the driving range though, you might be out of luck – Nancy Pace says a couple guys from Elmira bought them all last week.

Brian Crandall

Brian Crandall reports on housing and development for the Ithaca Voice. He can be reached at bcrandall@ithacavoice.com.