Story by Kelsey O’Connor, Devon Magliozzi and Becky Mehorter
ITHACA, N.Y. — A space that was once filled with newspaper presses and loading trucks in Downtown Ithaca has transformed in recent years into a hub for microbusinesses and startups. The spot off of West Green Street is now called Press Bay Alley, with neighboring Press Bay Court, and here, nearly 20 businesses across four clustered properties have found a home.
Press Bay Alley and the more recent Press Bay Court has continued to evolve and includes a mix of micro-retail spaces, from vendors who sell food and beverages, to specialty items like lingerie, bridal wear and herbal remedies. The properties are operated by Urban Core LLC, owned by John Guttridge and David Kuckuk.
In an interview in Press Bay Alley this summer, Guttridge said he has worked to create a “streetscape” that’s engaging, interesting and convivial.
“One of the things that makes Press Bay Alley and the court really special is the community that’s created around them,” Guttridge said. “When you have a fabric of many threads, it’s stronger than one individual thread. And so it’s like people can share their resources and can even help each other out. I think that there’s some real value in that.”
The alley has a way of transforming, depending on the holiday or function. Sometimes it transforms into a local market like Tuesday’s Thanksgiving Market, with music performed on the old loading dock, and regional farmers and artisans selling produce, meats, desserts, bread, and other goods. When the weather is warm, the space can feel like an open market as the businesses open their bay doors and visitors can smell fresh-baked pies from Mama Said Hand Pies, taste brews from Lucky Hare Brewery, grab ice cream from Sweet Melissa’s or a coffee from Press Cafe.
Not all of the businesses in Press Bay Alley and Court are public-facing and at ground level. There are some interesting businesses tucked away like Embark, a dog DNA testing company and Capro-X, an agritech spin-off from Cornell University that helps manage waste from Greek yogurt production. There’s even the Ithaca Meat Locker, which offers shared freezer space so people can store bulk meats.
Until 2006, the space was where The Ithaca Journal printed and loaded up its daily newspaper before printing operations were moved to Johnson City. Guttridge bought The Ithaca Journal building in 2012, when the Journal had largely reduced staff and moved to the second floor. The printing warehouse is now part of Ithaca’s circus school, Circus Culture.
Amy Cohen, who owns Circus Culture, said she spent months looking for space for her circus training school. The school teaches juggling, tightwire, acrobatics and other circus feats in the building at 116 W. Green St. She said the space was ideal.
“John possesses that ability to look at a space and completely imagine how to repurpose and reinvent it, which is such a gift to the community,” Cohen said.
The storage buildings in the back were transformed into the 186-square-foot micro-retail spaces that are there today.
“It had these big coil doors on it, we literally pulled it out of the bushes. It was covered in ivy. The alley was full of potholes. It just needed a lot of everything,” Guttridge said. “Most of what we’ve done is to sort of peel back all the layers of the onion and find the beautiful things underneath and then enhance them with a few elements that take it from what it is to something really special.”
For new business owners in Press Bay Alley, micro-retail has been a chance to open a storefront at a reasonable price (starting at $400 per month) and focus on building on their businesses. Richard Thiel, one of the owners of Lucky Hare Brewing Company, said they were drawn to the location because of the small shop size and the sense of community in the alley.
“We consider this a family-friendly environment, and we treat it as such,” Thiel said. “Press Bay is a little gem that people don’t know about.”
• Related: A lot in flight at Press Bay Alley
Though opening a business can be risky, especially with the ease of online shopping, Layne Dann, who owns Gee June Bridal, said opening her shop in Press Bay Court has been a positive experience. Dann was one of the Race for Space II winners, tied with Ithaca Halal Market, and opened her shop in November 2018.
“It works for somebody looking to take the risk and become a retailer,” she said. “Micro-retail gives you the opportunity to be able to take that risk without the square footage via rent, bogging you down.”
Ithaca Halal Meat and Grocery, also attached to Press Bay Court, was another Race for Space winner, meaning they get a free year of rent and a $4,500 grant. Abdul Jalil, who owns the market, said that when he saw that there were no halal markets in Ithaca, he felt moved to create his own. He said the food is important to the Muslim community in Ithaca, which includes professors and students at Cornell University and Ithaca College.
Guttridge said the alley and court has transformed into something “far more” than he could have imagined. “It’s been a really fun journey. It’s been really great to work with all of the people that are here and to see what creative ideas other people have and other people bring to the space.”
Take a peek inside a few businesses in Press Bay Alley and Court:
Featured image by Jacob Mroczek/The Ithaca Voice