OLCOTT – When Karen Young decided to open a gift shop at the Lakeview Village Shoppes on Lake Ontario six years ago, she had her choice of eight empty spots.
Now, there’s a waiting list to rent a boardwalk storefront at 5955 Ontario St., Olcott.
It’s fair to say Young has seen some changes afoot in this quiet, lake-side hamlet, and she has hope for many more.
“I’d like to see nonstop people coming to our area every day,” said Young, a longtime booster of the Olcott and Newfane area. “That’s what I see in my crystal ball. And I don’t think it’s too far off. There’s a great group of people here who want to do great things for the area.”
Fellow volunteer Jane Voelpel counts Young among that group of go-getters.
“Karen has such a vibrant personality,” said Voelpel. “She’s such a lovely person. And, if Karen says she’ll do something, she does it. And, she does such a good job with everything she does.”
Young was elected to the Lockport School Board in May, taking office July 1. She also maintains the Lakeview Village Shoppes’ social media sites and was given oversight of the Newfane Tourism Committee sites, as well.
“We have a good group of people here, all with the same goal,” she said.
Young co-owns her lakefront shop, the Gift Box at the Beach, with her husband, Steve, a math teacher at North Park Junior High School in Lockport.
“He claims to be the top salesman,” she said with a laugh. “Most weekends, you’ll find us both at the shop.”
The 11 lakefront shops open for weekends May 1 each year and remain open daily from Memorial Day through Labor Day. The shops’ schedules return to weekends only after Labor Day through the end of October.
“Yes, we’re still open,” she said with a laugh. “Everyone asks. We’re all open from noon to 6 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays through the end of October. We’re open six months a year.”
Young recently took some time to talk about Olcott, her shop, career choices and volunteer endeavors.
How did you decide to open this shop?
My first job at 16 was working in a gift store in Newfane – For the Love of Pete – and then I worked at the Gift Box at the Lockport Mall through college, becoming a manager. I went to Buffalo State College for a degree in psychology. I was starting my master’s degree in counseling, but then I bought the store instead of finishing it after one year. I was 25.
I had both stores, in Lockport and in Olcott for one year, then I closed my Lockport store. This shop is on a much smaller scale and I love it.
How do you decide what items to carry?
I carry the ‘Life is Good’ T-shirts because I like them. I’d see them when I was on vacation at places with beaches. I carry greeting cards and Rothschild gourmet dips and sauces. I also try and have something super funny every year, whether it’s wooden signs or magnets.
Who are your customers?
We get a ton of tourists from the Falls. They’re in town, they see the Falls and then they’re looking for something else to do and some of them just follow the lake here, or are on the Niagara Wine Trail. Locals come, too, because they like to go to the lake. People are drawn to the water.
Are you using your psychology degree?
I’m using it all of the time, to help decide what people want in my shop, for example.
So what will you do in November, when the shop closes again until next May?
That’s the joke. People ask me and I say, ‘Nothing.’ I honestly knew I would have more free time in the winter, so that prompted me to run for the Lockport School Board. I had been thinking about it for a while. It’s something to do with my time, to try and make a difference.
It’s a lot to learn – about all of the mandates, for example – but I knew that going into it, and I love learning.
Are you from Lockport originally?
No, I grew up in Newfane and moved to Lockport 16 years ago, while I was in college.
Please talk about your involvement with the Olcott Beach Community Association.
It’s a small group of community members who love Olcott. It’s all volunteer. We put on the Saturday night car shows all summer and the duck race at the marina in June to raise money for the July 3 fireworks. We also have the Augustfest craft show.
We’re having a food truck rodeo Saturday, with music and food trucks. It’s a fun event for fall.
And, we get a grant each year to take care of the flowers along Main Street and at the gazebo, and this past year we also used the grant to buy the Adirondack chairs around town. Businesses partnered with us and could decorate them. The chairs are here for people to relax in and they really seem to love them!
How does Olcott differ from what you remember as a child?
It’s totally different. They didn’t have the rides anymore at the New Rialto Amusement Park, like they do now at the Olcott Beach Carousel Park. You could come down to the shops, and to the park, but it wasn’t like it is now. The Seafood Bar was gone by the time I was a teenager.
I have many fond memories, but it just wasn’t anything like it is now. The Pirate Festival here has really grown, and we have the Mermaid Parade now. Everything is so much bigger and better.
Tourists come here and tell me, ‘Oh, it’s so beautiful here, so nice and quaint.’ It makes you stop and see that it really is wonderful here.
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