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Olcott shops’ opening is sure sign summer is on the way

OLCOTT – You know summer can’t be far off when the colorful, beachy enclave known as the Lakeview Village Shoppes throws open its doors.

Shopkeepers hung out their “open” signs this weekend and are gearing up for an especially busy time this year. They have added even more events to draw visitors from near and far to this boardwalk of eclectic offerings hugging the shores of Lake Ontario.

“We’ve had the same group of shop owners for the past three years and everyone is on the same page – we’re a very collaborative group,” said Karen Young. She’s embarking on her sixth season as owner of the Gift Box at the Beach with her husband, Steve.

Shopkeepers greeted patrons for the first time this year on Saturday and continue to operate from noon to 6 p.m. Sunday. They will remain open weekends throughout the month at 5955 Ontario St., with hours increasing to seven days a week over Memorial Day weekend.

“I grew up in Newfane and the shops were not like this at that time and I never would have imagined that Olcott would become the tourist spot that it has,” Young said.

Young offers a variety of gift ideas and said her top sellers are the “Life is Good” line of T-shirts and hats and Robert Rothschild dips, sauces and salsas.

Fellow shopkeeper Kris Teeter called Olcott “a gem.” She is the owner of the candy shop KM Treats, as well as KM Eats, which currently serves items like hot dogs and fries, but will expand to include wraps and salads once the full season is underway.

“Tourism is really growing leaps and bounds down here and we have a great array of different shops,” Teeter said. “We have a group of people who really want to see Olcott thrive.”

Rory Calabrese and her mother, Scotty Johnson, started their first business here in 1995, and added a second shop seven years ago.

“You know what they say – it’s all location, location, location, and I feel we have the best location in Western New York,” Calabrese said. “That’s what keeps me here.”

While Johnson has retired to North Carolina, Calabrese continues her shop, Nature’s Child, which features “recycled gifts inspired by nature,” as well as her second shop, Sea Hag, with its “vintage and designer clothing and jewelry.”

Calabrese is heartened by the uptick in visitors – as well as in shops – in recent years.

At one time in her 21-year stretch, Calabrese recalled that “maybe five of the 18 shops were filled – but now our growth has been phenomenal. We have a fantastic group of go-getters, working hard to bring Olcott back.”

Sue Neidlinger, a town council member who acts as liaison to the shops, said that, indeed, “all 18 shops are filled and we have a waiting list.”

“The shop owners are doing such a good job,” she said. “In the past couple of years, it’s just gotten bigger and better. We have shops with souvenirs, clothing, vintage clothing, food, art, jewelry and higher-end jewelry, antiques, and someone will even have carved horses this year.”

These shops are distinctive in a number of ways, Neidlinger pointed out, including the fact that they are owned and maintained by the Town of Newfane and leased to the tenants for the summer for just $235 per month. The shopkeepers carry their own insurance.

“I’ve met people from all over the world visiting my shops,” Calabrese added. “And many, especially those from big cities, are shocked about this partnership we have between the town and the shops.”

The shops also try to coordinate events with the Olcott Beach Community Association and to take advantage of their proximity to Krull Park, the Olcott Beach Carousel Park, the marina and town-sponsored concerts at the gazebo.

“The association is putting on a food truck rodeo at 2 p.m. on June 11 in our parking lot here,” Calabrese noted. “And, on July 3, Olcott has fireworks over Lake Ontario, and the boardwalk is a perfect place to watch them.”

In addition, from 4 to 7 p.m. Fridays, from June 3 to Sept. 2, the strip of waterfront shops will host a different local winery from the Niagara Wine Trail for free tastings, against a backdrop of live music from 5 to 8 p.m., with a handful of local farmers conducting a small market. And, the community association will stage a craft show on Aug. 13 that is sure to draw more visitors to the area.

Neidlinger said the town is building brand-new bathrooms, which should be ready within the next couple of weeks, and has installed a new security system. Niagara County also has contributed some funding for the shops’ Olcott Beach Mermaid Parade, new last year.

Calabrese heads the parade, which she said was inspired by a television program she saw featuring the Coney Island Mermaid Parade. She said she expects 1,000 participants and spectators for the event on June 18.

“We’ll start with sign-up at 2 p.m. at the lighthouse and the parade begins at 4 p.m.,” she said. “We’ll have the 12/8 Path Band again and lots of special surprises. All ages can participate or people can just come down to view it.”

Neidlinger calls the collection of eclectic shops “kind of a combination of New Orleans – with the Mermaid Parade – and the New Jersey boardwalk, but with our wonderful Lake Ontario sunsets. It’s really unique.”

The shops operate just weekends in May, September and October (closing at the end of October), and are open noon to 6 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and noon to 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays from Memorial Day through Labor Day weekend. For more information, call 778-8531 or visit the shops on Facebook.