The Citizen's 10 most-read features of 2018: Drifters on Owasco, The HideOut and more
The Citizen staff
The Citizen's most-read feature stories of 2018 included new businesses, efforts to rehabilitate historic buildings and a deeper look at a local tradition.
Inside West Middle School Apartments: Former Auburn campus opens to tenants
AUBURN — Jenica Lawton and Karen Brown are like students in a new school.
Lawton is a risk manager and Brown is a regional manager for Two Plus Four Companies, which recently began renting housing units at its newest property: the former West Middle School.
As they showed The Citizen around the remodeled three-story building Friday, Lawton and Brown couldn't help getting lost a couple times.
"Sometimes I'm trying to figure out where I am," Lawton said. "I think I've been around it quite a bit."
Built in 1939, the 118,112-square-foot school was closed in 2011 by the Auburn Enlarged City School District due to declining enrollment and a budget shortfall. Two Plus Four, of Syracuse, partnered with Unity House of Cayuga County to purchase the building from the district for $1,060,000 in January 2017. The $20 million remodeling project was supported by state, federal and private funding.
Friday, the size of West Middle School Apartments wasn't its only striking feature. It was also so quiet that someone walking its hallways might not have guessed that there were couches and beds, not desks and blackboards, in its classrooms. Thirty-eight of the building's 59 units are currently occupied, Brown said, but unless someone is passing through the hallways, it's "super quiet."
Brown expects the building will be full by the end of April, though applications will continue to be accepted and a waiting list maintained. The 20 units reserved for Unity House clients are already full. Their rent is partly subsidized by the agency, which provides housing, rehabilitation and employment services for people with mental illness, developmental disabilities and/or chemical dependencies.
The Unity House units are mixed with the others at West Middle School, Lawton and Brown said. People applying for the other units must have a minimum annual income of $18,000 for one-bedroom units and $19,750 for two-bedroom units. Rent is $650 a month for the former and $675 a month for the latter, and includes heat and hot water but not electrical.
Animals are allowed, Lawton and Brown said, but dogs can weigh no more than 35 pounds and owners must pay a $250 security deposit. The fee is waived for service animals.
Keith Grady, who's been living in his apartment since Feb. 28, said Friday that he appreciates its space and cleanliness. He sees himself sticking around awhile, he added.
"As long as the Lord's willing, I'm staying right here," said Grady, who used to bring his granddaughter to school at West Middle.
Along with the newly remodeled units in the building's former classrooms, West Middle School tenants will have access to a few other amenities, Lawton and Brown said.
Each floor has a laundry room with a few sets of washers and dryers. There's a reading room with new chairs and sofas, a recreation room with an air hockey table and, in the former gym, a community space with a kitchen, several tables and chairs, and a new TV and DVD player. Though the tenants vary in age, the older ones like having the long hallways to walk, Brown said.
Brown said some residents are already organizing a movie night in the community space. Two Plus Four will leave such programming to them, she continued. But community organizations could be brought in for events, like the Cayuga County Health Department for flu clinics, the Auburn Fire Department for fire safety training and the Office for the Aging for cleaning tips.
Two Plus Four is also figuring out how to use several rooms and features of the former school. Some student art is hung in the hallways, but the Syracuse company is also talking to the city of Auburn and local historian Ormie King about filling the glass display cases. Its lockers will also remain, as they are crucial to the historic building's character, Brown said.
The auditorium is being leased to the Finger Lakes Musical Theatre Festival as venue West End Theater. And the YMCA is interested in the athletic fields, Brown said, which would be free to them.
Unity House will soon relocate several administrative employees to the school. Two Plus Four has a full-time building manager on-site Mondays through Fridays, on-call maintenance 24/7 and a part-time office for Brown, who manages 13 properties in the Finger Lakes area for Two Plus Four. They include Auburn Heights, Northbrook Court and Greenview Hills, all in Auburn.
Brown said Friday that Two Plus Four is encouraged by the response to West Middle School Apartments, and is eyeing other city properties to develop as a result.
"We've had such a cry for this type of housing," she said.
To learn more
For more information about West Middle School Apartments, visit twoplusfour.com or call (315) 437-1808. A grand opening will be held in April.
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Drifters On Owasco: Lakeside restaurant to open with 'not so typical' menu
MORAVIA — When Drifters On Owasco opens in September, the restaurant's tagline will be "Everything's better by the lake." Why? Because it's true, co-owner Jane Manning said.
Located at the former Lakeside Grill and Cascade Grill in Moravia at the southern end of Owasco Lake, the restaurant is run by Jane and her husband, Jim, along with Lieann and Tom Wade. The Mannings came to Drifters after spending most of their lives in food service, Jane said.
Opening a restaurant wasn't always the plan, she said. But when the pieces fell into place and they were given the opportunity to purchase the property, they couldn't resist — especially considering the view of the lake.
"The location, the beauty that's here really energized us to get the project going," Jane said.
With a soft opening set for Tuesday, Sept. 4, the Mannings were hard at work getting everything ready for customers Wednesday. The goal, Jane said, is to provide a fun place to bring family and friends with a fun and casual, but interesting atmosphere, as well as simple, quality pub-style food.
The Mannings and executive chef Ivy Fillion aren't ready to say what's on the menu quite yet, though they plan to post it on their Facebook page next week.
But Fillion, who has worked in restaurants for approximately 20 years and has been running them for around eight, including time at Rogues' Harbor Inn and ZaZa's Cucina in Ithaca, said customers could expect things like "not so typical" burgers and sandwiches.
"We want to do interesting things that will tickle people's palates," Fillion said.
To give an example of an item that could be on the menu, Fillion described a BLT with duck bacon and avocado, or fried Brussels sprouts dressed in white truffle oil.
A focus for the menu, Fillion said, is being environmentally conscious, with an emphasis on sourcing ingredients from local farms.
Assistant chef Jennifer Haaf, a magna cum laude graduate of the Johnson & Wales University culinary program who has worked for years as a baker and pastry chef, will handle desserts. Fillion said they'll have a "home, community feel."
Besides the food, Jane said, the biggest asset Drifters has is the natural beauty of the lake. While showing off the property, Jane pointed out two bald eagles flying low above the water, something she expects will be a common sight for diners eating on the patio and deck sections.
But the Mannings aren't leaving it all up to the lake. Jane said they plan to host a variety of live music acts and other events for the community as the venue stays open year-round.
The Mannings both grew up in St. Lawrence County, but have been in Moravia for 15 years. Both of them were raised near water, and their natural affinity for it affected both their decision to move to Owasco Lake and to open Drifters.
"You don't get much more water than the Finger Lakes," Jane said.
And while opening a new restaurant comes with plenty of hectic new problems and stresses, Jim said that just being on the water is a natural stress relief.
The pair are hoping the community will find the spot just as relaxing, and from the initial response, it seems like locals are already eager to visit. Since the Lakeside Grill closed three years ago, neighbors are ready for a new spot to gather, Jane said. She added that it's rare to have a day the Mannings don't have three or four visitors telling them how eager they are for Drifters to open.
"Every day the excitement gets higher and higher," Jim said. "The community support is incredible."
That excitement has translated into calls, texts and Facebook messages with suggestions and ideas for everything, from the atmosphere to the menu, and the Mannings are taking them to heart.
"They really are guiding us. They're giving us the formula to be successful," Jane said.
Eventually, the Mannings also hope to be joined by their ownership partners the Wades. Currently living in Virginia, Jane said the Wades would like to move to the area and have a more active role in the restaurant once their children are grown.
The soft opening is set to include a ribbon-cutting attended by local elected officials. The Mannings say they'll be posting more information, including a look at the menu, on the restaurant's Facebook page.
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A tradition continues: Green Shutters reopens with new owners, look and menu
OWASCO — Mike Schmidt and James White were still new to the Finger Lakes when they first stepped into Green Shutters last summer. But they could feel the history of the century-old restaurant.
That's why Schmidt and White, cousins who are both chefs, decided to buy the business when it went on the market. Green Shutters officially reopened under their ownership Friday, May 25.
"We've had hundreds of people come in over our last week and say, 'Thank you, I'm so happy you guys opened,'" Schmidt said at the restaurant Thursday. "What restaurant do you open where they're thanking you? You're usually thanking them. ... We've never had so many people rooting for a restaurant in our lives."
Under their ownership, Schmidt and White expect Green Shutters customers to notice a difference. White redesigned it, removing the lunch counter and repurposing segments of it into new tables, a platform for the soda machine and a smaller countertop for the register. He also lined the sterile white interior with bold reds and blues, evoking the look of the boats on nearby Owasco Lake.
The removal of the lunch counter allows customers to reach the rear dining room of Green Shutters without having to walk around the building to its own entrance. The dining room continues the nautical theme with pictures of Finger Lakes piers, and a new wraparound bench allows the room to seat bigger parties together. The former service station there is now a semi-private booth, as well.
The food builds on Green Shutters staples — hamburgers, hot dogs and ice cream — with items White has found to be popular at his previous restaurants. The new menu is prepared almost entirely from scratch, Schmidt said, and features Indelicato's meat and fresh haddock. Early favorites include pulled pork spring rolls and mozzarella balls made with homemade breading and a candied pepper glaze. Five relishes and five tartar sauces are available as condiments, as well as a New York cheddar sauce. And a deli board and several salads are there for healthier options, Schmidt said.
As they solidify their kitchen, Schmidt and White also plan on expanding the food service at Green Shutters. They recently purchased a new grill and a new smoker for the picnic area, where they plan on serving barbecue fare this summer. The area boasts new seats and lights around its signature waterfall feature, and a garden has been raised where the stage was located. Now located near the bar, the stage will host musical acts Thursdays through Sundays, Schmidt said. The Bob Piorun Trio will play there from 1 to 3 p.m. today.
The ice cream menu, meanwhile, will expand with sugar or waffle cones filled with brownie chunks, crushed s'mores or other sweets, sprinkled with toppings like nuts and dipped in sauces that range from chocolate and caramel to house concoctions like blueberry, raspberry and pineapple. The cones can then be deep-freezed and sold to go, White said.
Toward fall, Schmidt said, he and White plan to add a pastry shop for breakfast service. Green Shutters will stay open during the colder months, he continued, but its hours will depend on business.
For both cousins, the Owasco restaurant is the latest addition to a long resume in food service.
Both got their start in the San Francisco Bay area. Schmidt was executive chef at Palo Alto Hills Golf & Country Club before moving to Las Vegas, where he worked at Asian, French and other restaurants under China Grill Management at Mandalay Bay. He moved to the Auburn area about a decade ago to be closer to his wife's family, he said. He's since cooked at Hollywood Restaurant and Pavlos' while overseeing two locations of Stacks Breakfast in California. His sister bought out his stake in them last week so he could focus on Green Shutters, Schmidt said.
White came to the East Coast a few years ago to work at the Jersey Shore restaurants The Old Causeway Steak & Oyster House and The Black Whale Bar & Fish House. It was when he and Schmidt were driving back from the coast that White decided to also move to the Finger Lakes. And they don't plan on leaving: They've signed two 10-year leases to Green Shutters, Schmidt said.
The two bought the business from Bob Leonardi. Leonardi, who himself bought Green Shutters about 20 years ago and continues to own the Owasco Road property, reassumed ownership of the restaurant from its previous owner earlier this year following a mortgage dispute. He said he has "full confidence" in Schmidt and White, and praised the look and food of the new Green Shutters.
"I've never met two more dedicated, hardworking or qualified people than Jim and Mike," Leonardi said. "There's no question in my mind the quality of what their plan is."
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The Candlelight House: Woman restoring historic Auburn home
AUBURN — When Emily Andam first saw the 150-year-old brick house at 6 N. Fulton St., a light in her head flickered on.
Hoping to relocate to the East Coast, she found the house online in March of last year and made an offer a week later. That June, she closed on it. And the next month, she moved to Auburn from Highland, Utah, to restore and live in the house with her twin 16-year-old sons, Dashawn and Davyse.
Though the house will be a private residence, Andam has invited her new community to follow its restoration. Calling it the Candlelight House, Andam will place a candle in one of its 38 windows every time she finishes a phase of the project. And those who can't monitor the progress in person can visit thecandlelighthouse.com or facebook.com/theofficialcandlelighthouse.
"This is more than just me coming in and fixing a house. I want people to be proud of this," Andam said there Thursday. "Auburn's such a great town with so much history. I want this to be part of it."
Andam purchased the house for $27,000, according to Cayuga County property records. Its 2018 assessed market value is $27,999.
According to previous assessment records, the Cayuga County Historian's Office estimates that the 22,000-square-foot home was built sometime in the early 1870s. The property was owned by Lyman Soule, who donated the land where Soule Cemetery stands on Franklin Street Road in Sennett. The house has had several owners, the historian's office said, and was flipped often in the second half of the 20th century. One of its owners, Mike Vasco, operated a haunted house there in the late 1970s, according to The Citizen archives. At the time, it was 40 N. Fulton St., not No. 6.
That history of ownership is indexed in the house itself, as Andam has learned. Along with stabilizing its porch and one of its rear walls, some of the first work she and her sons completed was removing a 1970s addition at the rear of the house and exposing two staircases that had been buried in closets. They've also ripped out its carpet to uncover its hardwood floors and dug out samples of its period wallpaper, which they hope to restore or reproduce. Andam said the biggest challenge facing the project will be finding contractors who can meet its historically specific demands.
However, Andam has yet to decide whether she'll make use of any resources available to historic preservation projects like hers, such as the National Register of Historic Places. Though she wants her new home to be as "historically accurate and correct" as possible, from its plaster finishes to its tuckpointed brick, she also wants to retain the freedom to deviate from history if necessary, she said.
As dingy and debris-strewn as the house was Thursday, Andam hopes to complete its restoration within the next year. Her next focus is the cupola, which, along with the sloping mansard roof, is a fixture of the Second Empire 19th-century architectural style that the house exemplifies. Andam and her sons were also amused to discover a rusted lightning rod attached to that part of the house.
Until her future home is complete, Andam is renting a home around the corner — and counting the days until those 38 windows are alight.
"I have amazing plans for this house," she said. "This is going to be my dream house. This is something that I will have forever."
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'We sell fun': The 2018 MacKenzie-Childs Barn Sale, by the numbers
AURORA — The tented pavement expanse of the MacKenzie-Childs Barn Sale was mostly empty when Jerry Ryan walked through it Tuesday. But one of the boxes that was there got his attention.
"These pumpkins are amazing," he said. The box, the size of a small hot tub, held dozens of them, all covered in the Aurora manufacturer's signature checkerboard pattern.
Over a cacophony of beeps from forklifts bustling nearby, Ryan continued.
"Between pumpkins and tea kettles, you would think that everybody in the area would have one by now," he said.
Pumpkins and tea kettles are two of the most popular items sold at the annual Barn Sale, which returns Thursday, July 12. As MacKenzie-Childs prepared for this year's sale last week, Ryan, a 23-year veteran of the company and its current manager of distribution operations, gave The Citizen a peek at the effort required to mount it. And only the numbers can do that effort justice:
This year's Barn Sale will be the 30th for Ryan. It started in 1996 in "a little teeny tiny tent" outside the barn, which MacKenzie-Childs acquired from Cornell University that year, he said. The barn was disassembled in Trumansburg and rebuilt at the company's Aurora headquarters, where it has since hosted tea parties, a restaurant, a wedding and more. The Barn Sale took place twice a year until 2000, then started again in 2002. But it wasn't until 2008 that it became a fixture on the calendar of MacKenzie-Childs — and its fans from all over the world.
Today, though, only a sliver of the sale takes place in the barn: It now spans 2.5 acres of tented floor on the company's 65-acre property.
Filling all that space is 1,200 pallets of MacKenzie-Childs merchandise. Each one is stickered with its destination on the show floor, down to the row. So as it's delivered from the company's warehouse in Union Springs, it's placed according to its category: accessories, garden, jewelry, ceramics, glassware, furniture and more. Some items are made specifically for the sale, Ryan added. Though the sale was more of a clearance in its early years, he continued, today the company approaches it as a cultural event where the goal is to have something for every customer.
Barn Sale discounts range from 40 to 80 percent. To encourage repeat visits, some inventory is discounted more and more over the course of the sale's four days, Ryan said.
The lure of MacKenzie-Childs merchandise at such a deep discount has made the Barn Sale one of Cayuga County's premier tourist draws. Last year, Ryan said, attendance climbed about 5 percent to 26,000 people, the sale's highest ever. Many come year after year because of their loyalty to the manufacturer, whose aesthetics, checkerboard and otherwise, are the product of more than 100 artisans. "Nobody buys our dinner plate because they need a dinner plate," Ryan said. "They buy our dinner plate because it makes them smile. So, basically, we sell fun."
That lure has led customers to line up at MacKenzie-Childs headquarters as early as the Sunday night before the Thursday morning sale, Ryan said. Each night in between, hundreds would sleep on the red brick walkway leading to the sales floor. The company raised a tent to give them shelter, and though it could cover a line five people wide, the crowd outgrew it by hundreds of feet. But this year, due to safety concerns, MacKenzie-Childs won't allow customers to line up until 6 a.m. Wednesday, reducing the wait time to 26 hours. There's still a line each day of the sale, Ryan continued, but it's longest on the first day because of the furniture, whose stock is much more limited than other items.
Meg Vanek is not only a proponent of the MacKenzie-Childs Barn Sale, she's also a customer.
In spite of the competitive subtext, Barn Sale customers who wait in line together often become friends, Ryan said. And MacKenzie-Childs has tried to grow that camaraderie in recent years with a DJ, food, prizes and other flourishes of what he called a "country fair atmosphere." But the food has been limited to one or two vendors. In an effort to make this year's Barn Sale even more of an event, it will feature 10 vendors: Bird Song Cafe, Cayuga Lake Creamery, Felony Donutz, Let's Roll Gourmet, Heart & Hands Winery, Aurora Ale & Lager, Silver Street Road Kettle Corn, PB&J's Lunch Box, Wolf's Patio Pizza and Tonzi's Catering Co. And that doesn't include Serendipity Catering, which feeds the sale's staff.
MacKenzie-Childs employs 360 people full-time, and for them the Barn Sale is an all-hands-on-deck affair, Ryan said. But the company requires an additional 400 temporary jobs to manage the sale. Their tasks range from discarding empty boxes and restocking inventory to answering questions and monitoring lines. For instance, if the company sells out of a pallet of garden stakes, Ryan said, someone nearby will immediately know if customers can expect another pallet. Others are hired to work security: Because the sale takes several days to set up, the merchandise that's been placed outside must be monitored overnight against theft and thunderstorms. The latter reliably strikes at least once a year, Ryan said. But security is also required because the sale can give way to what he called "friendly competition." Ryan advised customers not to leave their carts unattended: "If someone sees what they want, they're gonna grab it."
Some of the temporary jobs created by the Barn Sale are cashiers at its 42 registers. This year, to speed up sales, a staffer at the checkout line will have a tablet indicating when a register opens. They can then direct customers to that numbered and color-coded register. Before this system, Ryan said, cashiers had to call out when they were open.
Last year's 26,000 customers included ones from Japan, England and Australia, as well as most of the 50 states, Ryan said. That's why MacKenzie-Childs offers a shipping station at the Barn Sale. It shipped 1,350 orders last year, he said. More local customers bring U-Hauls or trailers to the sale. This year, however, they will not be able to take shopping carts back to their cars. Ryan said the new policy will allow the carts to remain more available to incoming customers.
Planning for next year's Barn Sale will begin with a debrief the day after this year's ends, Ryan said. There, MacKenzie-Childs staff will discuss what worked and what didn't. Then, in January, product preparation will begin. And customers will probably begin planning their return. "Our customers are very special people," Ryan said. "We have a great fan base that's loyal and a lot of fun."
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Burned into memory: Auburn's Dunn & McCarthy fire, 25 years later
AUBURN — When firefighter Joseph Morabito began his shift at 5:30 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 19, 1993, the biggest concern on his mind was what he'd have for dinner.
By 7 p.m., though, Morabito found himself fighting the biggest fire of his 28-year career: the one that claimed the former Dunn & McCarthy shoe factory that night.
The numbers can only begin to trace the scale of the five-alarm blaze and the effort to contain it: 67 Auburn firefighters at the scene, 429 volunteers activated or alerted, 3 million gallons of water used. Another set of numbers traces the human cost of the fire: Two businesses destroyed and another four damaged, 706 without power for hours, more than 1,000 without phone service for days.
But, to Morabito, the most important number is zero. Though the fire lasted 10 hours, and at one point spanned a quarter of a mile, no lives were lost. Nor was anyone seriously injured. The only firefighter injuries at the scene were a twisted ankle and minor leg burns. Another three firefighters, from Montezuma, spent a night in the hospital after their responding truck collided with a car, whose driver also sustained non-life-threatening injuries. And that minimum of harm is perhaps why, when Morabito looks back at the fire on the eve of its 25th anniversary, he can appreciate it for what it was:
"It was a spectacular fire," he said.
Morabito, who is now chief of the Auburn Fire Department, shared his story of the Dunn & McCarthy fire Friday in his office. At once vivid and polished, it sounded like a war story, one he's shared many times with both those who were there and those who've only heard the legend. It begins as his evening shift did that Sunday night. An EMT class was scheduled for 6:30 p.m., hence his concern about dinner. But at 6:34 p.m., the alarm came in. So Morabito and Engine No. 4 headed down the Arterial toward the old Dunn & McCarthy shoe factory.
The complex of brick buildings at 41-55 Washington St. had been empty for about three years, according to The Citizen archives.
The factory opened in 1891, giving John Dunn's company access to the nearby Owasco River to power its pioneering use of assembly line techniques in shoe manufacturing. With Charles McCarthy now a partner, Dunn & McCarthy would employ 2,000 people at the turn of the century and become a national name. But as shoe imports increased toward the end of the century, that name suffered. In 1989, the descendants of Fred L. Emerson, who succeeded McCarthy as president, sold its stock in Dunn & McCarthy to a Roanoke company that filed for bankruptcy later that same year. After a failed loan payment the following year, the last order of 40,000 shoes was filled by 50 workers — and one of the biggest factories in Auburn's history closed its doors.
As Morabito and his task force company of 11 other firefighters rode to the scene, they considered Dunn & McCarthy's recent history. Neighborhood children were known to break into the vacant buildings and blow their fire extinguishers. This could have been another false alarm, Morabito remembered thinking. At the same time, though, something told him this alarm was anything but.
The company had just passed Curley's Restaurant when Morabito smelled smoke. Capt. Bob Sloan dismissed it as fog, Morabito said. As they turned from Wall Street to Washington, though, Morabito's suspicion was confirmed. So when the company arrived, it caught a hydrant and started laying hose. The department fought the fire at a disadvantage: One nearby water main had been turned off because of repairs to the Washington Street bridge, whose closure at the time forced Engine No. 3, coming from Clark Street, to go around. And because the firefighters were drawing water from the Owasco River, Morabito said, the city significantly slowed its flow for safety reasons. Still, Morabito isn't sure any more water or access would have changed what was about to happen.
Morabito and five others took hoses into an alley between two factory buildings, where they saw the heaviest smoke.
"It looked like we were getting it," Morabito said.
Then, Capt. Dan Curry told Morabito to look at the other side of one of those buildings.
The fire went from one to three alarms within a matter of minutes. By 7:25 p.m., it had reached the full five. Every fire department in Cayuga County responded, as well as some from Onondaga and Seneca counties. Hundreds of people lined the nearby streets to catch a glimpse, and it was visible from as far as Union Springs. Some even captured video that has since been uploaded to YouTube.
Knowing the factory was vacant, Auburn Fire made its mission one of containment. Dunn & McCarthy itself was almost immediately a loss. But the blaze also raged across Washington Street, loud as a freight train, Morabito said. It would claim two of the businesses there: Rood Utilities/RCI at 46 Washington and Mack Studio Displays at 42. Behind those two buildings were four more businesses: Coffee Host, Auburn Leathercrafters, Auburn Wire and Jans Laboratory. But because Rood and Mack shielded those four, and because firefighters made Auburn Wire their "last stand," Morabito said, those businesses sustained only smoke, water and window damage. Staff at Auburn Correctional Facility also feared the fire would jump its walls, but the prison went unscathed.
"It gets to a point where this thing is going to burn out sooner or later," Morabito said. "So let's protect what we can protect."
Mack Studio Displays had been on Washington Street for 15 years. Peter Maciulewicz (Mack), who bought out his parents to take ownership of the company two years prior, arrived at the fire at about 7 p.m. The flames had yet to touch his building. So he ran inside to save some things: Two computers — "there was no cloud back then," Mack noted — and his children's Christmas presents.
Then, all Mack could do was watch as the fire destroyed the design business started by his father, Casimir.
"I knew what was blowing up inside as it happened. It was pretty bad," Mack said. "My father and I could have cried the fire out."
By dawn, aside from a few scattered mounds of smoldering rubble, the Dunn & McCarthy fire had finished doing its catastrophic work. Morabito, who also worked as an investigator for the Auburn Fire Department, said thoughts quickly turned to identifying the cause. A suspected incendiary device was detonated, but it turned out to be an insulator, he said. Then, a comment from a neighbor about the children who broke into the building led Morabito and fellow investigator Ron Quill to interview about 30 from the area. It turned out a few East Middle School students had started a fire in a burn barrel that evening, Morabito continued, but they left thinking it had been extinguished. Regardless, they were brought to family court and received probation, their records sealed due to their age.
For Mack and his company, now known as Mack Studios, the fire led to bigger and better things. He had revised the company's insurance coverage when he bought it. So within days, he was able to find a new location at Auburn's Technology Park and begin ordering new equipment. Within weeks, he was fulfilling contracts again. Since opening, the new Mack Studios has gone from 16 to more than 50 employees, 25,000 to 130,000 square feet. And Mack has made sure that its sprinklers, exits and insurance are every bit as top-of-the-line as its equipment.
Rood Utilities/RCI, a heating contractor established by Merton Rood and Thomas Dean Walsh Sr. in 1951, also recovered. According to his 2004 obituary, Walsh took pride in the fact that his company's payroll was not interrupted by the loss of its building. The company was shipping parts within a week, and is now located on Burkhart Drive, less than a mile from its former location.
Like Mack, Morabito and Auburn Fire also learned from Dunn & McCarthy. The department began training more with others in the area, he said, becoming familiar with their abilities and equipment. Meanwhile, because the fire happened just two months after another suspicious one at the former H.R. Waite Furniture Co., Ron Quill became a full-time investigator, Morabito added.
Less has happened at the site of Dunn & McCarthy itself. Its rubble has been cleaned through the years, allowing overgrowth. This summer, local gym Live It Fitness & Training announced plans to build a 10,000-square-foot facility on the property. Whatever the site's future, though, the fire that tore down the century-old factory there 25 years ago will long burn in Auburn's memory.
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'An absolute need': Historic Auburn building up for $10M grant
Todd and Jonathan Borsa have some family history in Auburn's Market Street Park area.
Their great-grandfather, tailor Carmelo Siracusa, once owned the flatiron building at the corner of Market and Genesee streets. Its triangular architecture made it beloved by the community. But in the early 1970s, at the height of the city's urban renewal efforts, the building was demolished. It's memorialized on a mural a block up Genesee Street, next to Colonial Laundromat.
Now, the Borsas are trying to stop another Market Street building from going in the same direction.
Last November, the brothers bought 55 Market St., which consists of 18 residential units and two commercial ones occupied by Faith Chapel of Auburn. They plan to restore the building, which will cost more than $500,000. But the Borsas could get a boost from Auburn's $10 million Downtown Revitalization Initiative grant, as 55 Market St. was one of five historic properties included in a Main Street Improvement Program in the city's application. As that and other projects are considered by a local committee for submission to the state, the Borsas hope their building makes the cut.
"We've seen the momentum that's taken place over the past 10 years," Todd said Friday. "We want to continue that momentum."
Both born and raised in Auburn, Todd and Jonathan Borsa bought their first property, 17 Park Ave., in 2001, Todd said. But it wasn't until about three years ago that they ramped up their real estate interests, which now tally 11 properties and more than 40 units. Their great-grandfather wasn't their only inspiration: The Borsas' grandfather owned a dress factory across from the Dunn & McCarthy shoe factory, and their father owned about 70 units of his own in the '80s and '90s. So property ownership and management is "kind of in our blood," Todd said.
"We take a lot of pride in keeping well-managed, well-maintained properties," he said. "We enjoy working with people, and working with them as customers."
The Borsas almost doubled their number of units when they bought 55 Market St. Todd called it "a really cool building," and has been researching its history. Built shortly after the Civil War, the building was the Brunswick Hotel and then the Curtain Hotel until 1962. The next year, Ray Riordan bought the building and opened Riordan's Restaurant, which also served as an unofficial headquarters for the local Democratic Party. In 1980, the building was bought by George Kerstetter, who ran the restaurant before turning it into the commercial units that are there now, Todd said.
Since buying 55 Market St. from Kerstetter, the Borsas have been getting to know their new tenants. They credited Faith Chapel of Auburn with "(doing) a lot of good for people downtown," Todd said. Some of the residents are veterans, he continued, and some receive Section 8 housing benefits. The Borsas work with Unity House of Cayuga County, Chapel House, ARISE Cayuga/Seneca and other local agencies to place them. There are no formal income requirements to live in the building, Todd said, but even after its renovation, he and Jonathan hope to keep it affordable.
"Not everyone can afford $1,400 a month," Todd said. "We feel there's an absolute need for sustainable, affordable housing downtown."
Though the renovation was listed as a $538,918 project in Auburn's Downtown Revitalization Initiative application, Todd said he and Jonathan are scaling the project back. The first phase of work will cost $350,000 overall, he continued, and the Borsas are asking for $200,000 from the $10 million grant. They would cover the remainder of the cost with their own equity, Todd said. If the local committee leaves the project off its submission to the state next spring, or if the state doesn't approve it, the Borsas would fund the work themselves and possibly break it into more phases.
"We're excited, humbled and proud to be considered," Todd said.
As plans stand today, the first phase of work will consist of gutting the first-floor commercial spaces and the second and third floors' 13 residential units, and replacing their flooring, mechanicals, cabinets, countertops and appliances. Outside, the facade and sidewalls will be restored. The second phase will consist of the same work for the first floor's five residential units. Todd said he and Jonathan plan to secure short-term housing for their tenants while their units are renovated, and that they "wouldn't just put anybody on the street." The church, meanwhile, will stay put.
Though it will serve the same purpose for the same people inside, the sight of the restored historic building will be something to behold for those who walk by outside, Todd said.
"We want it to look like it used to," he said. "We never thought we'd own a building like this."
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Serenity now: New Auburn wellness center opens
At first, Robin Jackson began looking into holistic healing avenues to help her own family. Now, she's launched an Auburn business, Serenity Wellness, to share the healing she’s found with others.
After a car accident, Jackson said, her youngest daughter had debilitating anxiety due to post-traumatic stress and a mild traumatic brain injury.
"It was like someone turned the light switch off on her personality," Jackson said. "She was physically here, but personality-wise wasn't."
Jackson described her daughter, 13 at the time of the accident, as a straight-A student, an outgoing “leader of the pack” type of child. But after the accident, she had a hard time trusting people. Counseling, chiropractic care and acupuncture weren’t working. Jackson began homeschooling her daughter, and even joined a grief group herself to help cope with the loss of her daughter’s personality.
It was then that Jackson began learning about “energy healing and holistic avenues.” And now, Jackson said, reiki and cannabidiol (CBD) oils have transformed her daughter's life.
"To see how far she's come ... is amazing," said Jackson, who noted that her daughter, 18, will start attending culinary school in January. "As a mom, you want to be able to see your children flourish on (their) own. ... She's basically regained her life back."
Jackson has now been a reiki master for three years, certified in raindrop (essential oil) therapy for one year, and certified in aroma freedom technique for almost a year.
"I never intended to use (it) on others, just to help my own children," Jackson said. "I decided it was time to start sharing with others (that) there are so many options other than western medication."
On Sept. 28, Serenity Wellness hosted a grand opening and Jackson began sharing what she's learned through her family's journey with the community.
"I left with a very full heart," she said of the grand opening, adding that people offered a lot of positive feedback. "I definitely made the right decision in offering this to the community."
While Serenity Wellness has limited retail hours — 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Thursdays and Fridays, and 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturdays — people can also schedule appointments throughout the week for reiki, essential oil therapy, aroma freedom technique, life couching and BioMat sessions.
Jackson said that in most cases, people who come in for natural healing products or a healing session will already be "below the wellness line." Once Jackson finds out what a customer's ailments are, the types of healing sessions will be based on both their treatment needs and their comfort level, she said, explaining that a lot of people may not yet be familiar with these forms of healing.
"A lot of these have the end result to heal the body and rejuvenate it ... (they) help people not just on a physical level, but on an emotional level," Jackson said.
She explained that aroma freedom technique largely uses essential oils and breathing techniques.
"Breathing techniques used with essential oils literally dissolve the bad memories," Jackson said, and replace them with a "positive affirmation" instead: "It can help someone get through trauma without reliving it."
Jackson said reiki, a healing technique that channels energy by touch to activate the natural healing process in someone's body, allows someone "to go into a deep state of relaxation" and helps re-balance their body and reduce stress.
BioMats, Jackson explained, "can help with anything from overall wellness to boosting the immune system" by combining gemstones, infrared and negative ions in a mat on which people lie. The length of the session and heat of the mat will depend on a person's ailments, she said. While it's good for overall wellness, she added, it's especially helpful for people going through chronic illnesses such as Lyme disease, multiple sclerosis or Parkinson's disease.
Jackson explained that while western treatments like therapy can treat people emotionally, and physicians treat them physically, the treatment of the physical and emotional are always separate. But healing sessions at Serenity Wellness work at "connecting all the pieces" by joining the mind, body and soul together. Jackson said the goal of the sessions, as well as her business, is to help people feel their best and realize there are other options available.
Serenity Wellness' retail space, formerly a dance studio, has faux wood flooring and clean white walls with minimal artwork.
"I did look at other places, but they didn't have the energy this place had," Jackson said, adding it was the first space she saw. As reflected by the name, she wanted a place where people could walk in and "feel at peace," finding themselves wrapped up in a "very relaxing, comforting atmosphere."
Jackson said Serenity Wellness is a family business, as her husband, Tyrone, and her two daughters have helped it reach fruition. It also would not be possible, she said, without her team and business partners.
Crystal Pilat of Crystal Clear Life Coaching offers sessions by appointment, which Jackson said is a "perfect fit" with the other healing sessions she offers. Vin Gleason, who is a certified CBD distributor, also leads an illness support group at 6 p.m. Wednesdays.
In November, Serenity Wellness will have a calendar available detailing additional events, such as classes and workshops on essential and CBD oils, nutrition, guided meditation and yoga. Jackson said her own reiki master, Amy D'Angelo, will also offer energy healing and reiki certification classes.
"If I can make one person feel better every day, I feel I am achieving my goals," Jackson said.
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From Mark to Marco: Auburn-area native a pro wrestling sex symbol in Mexico
For most pro wrestlers, the ultimate prize is a world championship.
Mark Jindrak, of Throop, won his first in June.
But even as Jindrak performs for arenas of screaming thousands, his gold belt wrapped around his 6-foot-6, 265-pound frame, he has his eyes on another prize: coming back home.
Jindrak, 40, is champion of promotion CMLL in Mexico, where he's wrestled since 2006. As Italian character Marco Corleone, Jindrak has achieved more success there, both in and out of the ring, than he did in American promotions WCW and WWE. Since his release from the latter and arrival in Mexico, Jindrak has not only won CMLL's top championship, he's leveraged his crossover appeal into TV roles and magazine covers. Still, after two decades of wrestling — and the aches and pains that have come with them — Jindrak is ready to retire to the area where his athletic career started.
"I've missed Auburn," he said over the phone Dec. 20. Jindrak spoke from a car headed home from New York City, accompanied by his sister, Stephanie, his wife, Miroslava Jindrak-Luna, and their 14-month-old son, Jeronimo Jindrak. It was Jindrak's first return to the area since 2007, when his mother, Roberta, passed away. He returned to Mexico in time to defend his championship Friday.
Growing up in Throop in the '80s and '90s, Jindrak said, he took frequent trips to Auburn that he remembers fondly. He and his brother, Mike, would play the arcade games that used to be at the Genesee Street Dunkin' Donuts as their great-grandfather watched. He'd go to Wegmans and Hunter Dinerant. And he and Mike would tunnel through the snow on days off from school.
Even as a child, Stephanie said, Jindrak set a strong example. His little sister underwent several kidney surgeries as an infant, and loved Cabbage Patch Kids. So when she was 4 and her brother was 6, she recalled, he wrote to the coveted dolls' manufacturer, Coleco, and asked for one for Stephanie. The company sent it to her, she said, free of charge.
"That's my superstar Mark story," she said. "Nothing shocks me with that guy. He could call me tomorrow and tell me he's running for president and I'd believe it."
As he grew, Jindrak found success on the basketball court. He played for St. Francis in the local CYO league before joining Port Byron's varsity team. A 6-foot-5 center, Jindrak was the leading scorer in the southern division of the Onondaga High School League his senior year. He next played two seasons for the Division II team at Keuka College, and earned a degree in marketing there.
Toward the end of the 1990s, Jindrak found himself in a whole new athletic arena: the Power Plant training facility of World Championship Wrestling in Atlanta. Under the tutelage of "Mr. Wonderful" Paul Orndorff, Jindrak quickly graduated to the promotion's TV shows in the summer of 2000. That September, he won the WCW World Tag Team Championship with fellow rookie Sean O'Haire.
Jindrak made the move to World Wrestling Entertainment in 2001, when owner Vince McMahon purchased WCW. Though Jindrak didn't win any championships in WWE, he shared its ring with legends like The Undertaker and Eddie Guerrero, and even pinned the late "Latino Heat" once. However, Jindrak's prospects in the world's biggest wrestling promotion were hurt by his immaturity, he said. He believes that's because the money was new to him: His father, Mark, worked for the New York State Thruway, so although his family didn't miss meals, "it wasn't luxurious."
"I had a mediocre five years in WWE," Jindrak said. "I'm proud of getting there and being on the main roster. ... There's stuff I'll remember. But when it's all said and done, it was just mediocre."
WWE released Jindrak, along with 22 other talents, in July 2005. He then wrestled in Japan until late 2006, when friend Johnny "The Bull" Stamboli needed a partner at a Consejo Mundial de Lucha Libre show. There was one catch: Stamboli's team was the FBI — Full-Blooded Italians — so Jindrak needed an Italian makeover. With a nod to "The Godfather," CMLL gave him one: Marco Corleone.
Jindrak quickly took to wrestling in Mexico. Founded in 1933, CMLL is the oldest promotion in the world and features the kind of week-to-week storylines and rivalries that drew Jindrak to wrestling. So its fans are more appreciative of his raw athleticism, he said, such as his 42-inch vertical leap. On the contrary, he continued, WWE fans thought "I'm a meathead who does steroids."
The American has also found favor among Mexico's female fans. Presented by CMLL as a sex symbol, Marco Corleone can "do a hip swivel and make the girls go absolutely bonkers," Jindrak said.
With his physical stature, Jindrak has been able to follow in the footsteps of Mexican stars like El Santo, Blue Demon and Konnan by achieving mainstream success. He's been photographed for the cover of Mexico's equivalent of Us Weekly, he said, and interviewed for its "Good Morning America." Though Jindrak came to the country with limited Spanish, he's now at a "very functional" level.
"If I was lost, I'd take my shirt off or say something cute, and they ate it up," he said with a laugh.
One of Jindrak's more popular non-wrestling roles has been the Russian drug trafficker Ury Petrovsky on telenovela (soap opera) "Porque el Amor Manda." With his distinct accent, he's even coined a catchphrase: "Te voy hacer picadillo," which Jindrak translated as "I'm going to make chopped meat of you." Recently, viewers of the show recited the line as they asked for photos with him at a mall in Atlanta, where he was visiting family. Jindrak said he was recognized more that day than during his entire WWE career.
Stephanie, who still lives in Auburn, said that she's met several people from Mexico familiar with her brother.
"They say, 'He's beautiful and we love him,'" she said. "The ladies love him and the men respect him because he has a strong respect for wrestling."
Now the first American to wear the CMLL World Heavyweight Championship, Jindrak may be at the height of his stardom in Mexico. But he's nonetheless ready to retire in two or three years, he said.
Some minor knee and shoulder problems aside, Jindrak's body feels good, he said. But he doesn't want to change that by pushing himself past his limit. It's easy to do on CMLL's schedule, which sees Jindrak wrestle three to four times a week all over the country, including shows every Friday in the 16,500-seat "cathedral of lucha libre," Arena México.
For now, Jindrak is savoring the opportunity to travel the country with his wife and young son. Every wrestling trip is a family vacation, he said. But he's ready to trade Mexico City's notorious traffic for the scenic roads of Cayuga County, where he looks forward to teaching, coaching or even opening a Mexican restaurant.
"I'm craving a small-town life with some charm," he said. "And that's Auburn."
The HideOut: Video game lounge to open in Auburn
AUBURN — When Daryl King was a child, he preferred playing video games with friends. He could play alone at his house, but if they were playing at theirs, he'd drop his controller and join them.
Video games may have changed since the time King, 39, of Auburn, was a child. But what hasn't changed, he believes, is that they're best enjoyed socially.
That's why King is opening The HideOut, a video game lounge, at 157 State St. Beginning Wednesday, Aug. 1, the business will offer guests the ability to rent time at several video game stations: Two PlayStation 4s, two Xbox Ones, two arcade cabinets with 8,000 games apiece, and an Oculus virtual reality station. There's also an internet room in the back with Wi-Fi and a few tablets.
King, who grew up in New York City and moved to Auburn about 15 years ago, was joined Friday at The HideOut by partner Lakisha Vest, also of Auburn. Bleeps from "Pac-Man" and the theme to "Street Fighter II" bounced off the boldly colored walls, parts of which are decorated with the koopas, blocks and pipes of "Super Mario Bros." King said it all began with a desire to open a business for area children. Feeling they don't have many places to go in Auburn, he wanted to offer one that would keep them away from dangers like crime and drugs, he said.
So King remembered where he went when he was a child: arcades. Then, about six months ago, he had a conversation with friend Darryl Clark. Though King was considering opening a clothing store instead, Clark encouraged him to pursue the video game idea because it was new to the Auburn area, King said. Clark even built the business's two arcade cabinets.
Guests of The HideOut can pay $2 an hour to play PlayStation 4 and Xbox One games, King said. The business has about 25 games for each console. He'll obtain popular games as they're released, as well as ones his guests frequently request. The console games can be played from two black leather couches that give the lounge a living room feel, King said.
Though they're not coin-operated, the arcade cabinets are classically priced at 50 cents a game. King expects their older game libraries, which run on X-Arcade hardware, will appeal to adult players.
The Oculus VR station, meanwhile, has 25 games and costs $3 for 30 minutes. The technology immerses the senses so much that guests will likely want to take a break afterward, King said.
For those who want to use The HideOut's internet room, as well as those who just want to hang out and watch others play, there is a $2 cover charge, King said. He expects the business will become a social hub. With the rising popularity of Internet game streaming on Twitch and YouTube, he noted, it's more popular than ever to watch friends and even strangers play video games.
But The HideOut will do its part to build that community. King said he plans to have representatives of Alcoholics Anonymous and the Auburn Police Department in the lounge to speak to children. He also plans on hosting parties, live debates, board game family nights and video game tournaments that players can join at home or at the lounge. And there will be a weekly drawing through The HideOut's Facebook page where the winner will be eligible to work a few hours there in exchange for credits at its video game stations. All to give the children of Auburn a place to go, King said.