Encouraged by the slow but steady cleanup of a dilapidated downtown, local merchants feel the tide may be turning for this lakeside hamlet that has long struggled to recapture its early glory days.
"It's such a beautiful area, and there's no reason why it can't be the place to be," said Kathy Lamonte, owner of two businesses in the Lakeview Village Shoppes overlooking Lake Ontario.
Bolstered by a number of special events staged throughout the summer, merchants are gearing up for Old Olcott Days, set to run from noon to 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday at the Olcott Beach Carousel Park, nestled between Main and Ontario streets.
The free event features historical displays of memorabilia dating back to the early 1900s, when this hamlet was a major trolley destination.
The five-year-old carousel park is a definite draw for Dan and Debi Szczygiel of Ransomville, who recently took their three young grandchildren on the 25-cent, old-fashioned rides and then enjoyed ice cream across the street on the Lakeview Village Shoppes' boardwalk.
"It's so laid back, our daughter Cassie [Hurtgam] was just saying it reminds her of Key West with all of these little shops," said Dan Szczygiel.
The local government and area merchants have been striving to recapture a little of the magic that helped make Olcott a tourism mecca a century ago. Progress has been slow, but there are signs of a comeback.
All 18 tiny, multicolored storefronts in the Lakeview Village Shoppes complex are filled for the first time since they were built by the Town of Newfane 15 years ago -- and there is a waiting list to get in. The town owns the buildings and leases them each summer.
"They've been having a really good summer so far, and we put a lot of work into them this year to get them in shape," Newfane Supervisor Timothy R. Horanburg said.
"I think it's been great," said business owner Lamonte. "It even feels different down here. Maybe it's the physical cleaning up of the area, but people are excited about the direction things are going in."
Late last summer, Lamonte opened Gray Dog, a natural pet food and gift shop, and added Celtic Crossroads this year. That store specializes in clothing and jewelry.
Horanburg recently learned Assemblywoman Francine DelMonte, D-Niagara Falls, has just procured $50,000 to rehabilitate the sidewalks on the north side of Main Street from Lockport to Franklin streets.
Five buildings were razed in the block of East Main, Lockport and Ontario streets -- including two slated for demolition -- when a suspicious fire leveled them March 12. Horanburg said State Sen. George D. Maziarz, R-Newfane, obtained $50,000 in state economic development money to reimburse the town for the demolition work.
The distressed properties were purchased last year by Rochester businessman Eugene Mazzola with the intent to develop 19 shops ringing a town square.
"If everybody works together, we'll bring business back to Olcott," said Mazzola. "People want to go somewhere cheap, relatively close by and beautiful."