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A small lakefront town with a 1940s feel

OLCOTT – Olcott is 70 years behind the times. And that's the best reason for visiting this small community along the big lake.

For the past decade, the once rundown downtown of the mini-village has been not so much reinventing itself (as small, rundown towns are often advised to do), but rather re-creating what was once a place of pleasant glory.

Today the village has what it had during the Second World War: a small, kiddie-size amusement park; a dozen or so shops; a bunch of places to eat; a long, narrow beach with lifeguards; a large public park with plenty of picnic tables, grills and pavilions; and a cluster of bright yellow benches atop a small hill facing the endless water of Lake Ontario.

You don't come to Olcott to seek excitement, unless you're age 10 or younger. You go for a pleasant, low-key bit of amiability. The folks you'll meet are likely to move slowly, speak softly and treat you with gentility. Just like folks treated one another in the 1940s. (That might be wishful memory or polished-over history, but it's nice to think there were once plenty of towns like this.)

The heart of restored Olcott is the Olcott Beach Carousel Park, in the middle of Main Street, the business part of which is only a block long. The park consists of a 1928 carousel inside a 1940s carousel building, a kiddie car ride, a sky fighter ride, a rocket swing, a mahogany boat ride, and a small Ferris wheel. Each ride is sized for preteens and each costs 25 cents to ride.

There are also indoor skee ball machines. And a small outdoor theater.

(The amusement park is open from noon to 6 p.m. on weekends in the summer. In July, it is also open from noon to 6 p.m. on Wednesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays, and on weekends until 8 p.m.).

Just to the north of the park is a shopping center with a dozen shops. Typical is Water's Edge Gift Shop, which calls itself "The Original Pirate Store." It carries ship models, "River Rat" cheese, T-shirts and other stuff you would expect to find in a touristy store.

You'll also find the Olcott Beach Candy Co., Nature's Child ("a Gallery of Unusual & Recycled Gifts"), Emma's Tiques & Treasures, and a half dozen others, each not much bigger than a walk-in closet. These shops are the least 1940-ish part of Olcott, yet they fit in, pleasant and low-keyed. If you're not here on a weekend, when there might be crowds, the shopkeepers spend as much time sitting outside chatting with each other as they do inside selling their wares.

>Off to the manor

In the Kempville Wine Shoppe, I'm given directions to the Winery at Marjim Manor, about four miles east on Route 18. I'm assured it's haunted, but when I get there I don't see or hear or sense any ghosts. Oh, well. For $3, I get four samples of fruity wine. Marjim Manor specializes in fruity wines. A plum wine is the least fruity and most tasty.

The Manor itself, built sometime in the 1800s, was once a farmhouse, then a retreat for nuns, and now serves as headquarters for the winery. Sometimes weddings are held there. If the bride and groom are lucky, one of their guests will be a "Dr. Charles Ring;" a winery brochure describes him as a "former resident and ghost."

But Dr. Ring didn't visit with me. Maybe he doesn't like plum wine. Maybe I should have sampled the pear wine. Maybe you'll have better luck.

Back in Olcott, I look for an appropriate place to eat. My first choice is a deli, because it seems the most small-townish, but the soda dispenser isn't working and I'm directed outside to a soda machine. Which I pass by.

Mariners Landing on Franklin Street is part seafood bar, part Italian restaurant, and, as is typical of bar food, the servings are generous. The menu says the place has "the best stocked bar in Western New York." That's not true, but it's close enough. Patrons should be as generous in judging bars' claims as the bars are in their portions.

If you just like to walk around and look at things, go to the lakefront at the northern end of Route 78 to view the short lighthouse. It's white with a black top and can't be more than about 30 feet tall. You wonder how a boat in distress could see the thing.

Just south of the lighthouse is a Civil War memorial, this one a statue of a soldier at ease, listing the names of area soldiers who served in the Union Army.

To the west of the lighthouse is an inlet with a marina. There are dozens of boats, and like most nonboaters, I find the way they are lined up and neatly swaying in the motion of the water pleasing.
To the east of downtown is Krull Park. To the south of Route 18, the park is a large playground, with ball fields and other things to keep visitors active. But north of Route 18, near downtown, it's a quiet expanse of green grass with pavilions, picnic tables and grills – places where families can sit and talk and look out on Lake Ontario and remember a time when life was slower and easier and more pleasant.

Or at least hope there were once such times.


>If you go

Take Route 270 to Route 93 north; at Route 18, turn right. Or take Route 78 north; it terminates at Olcott. The village is about an hour and a quarter north of downtown Buffalo.

There's plenty of free parking all around town, and about a dozen places to eat.