Rosebud Flower Shop

The family roots run deep at Rosebud Flower Shop – not just for the florist business, but for its location, at the corner of East 10th and Reed streets on the City of Erie’s east side.

Ruth Thompson’s family has been located at that corner for generations. Her father, the late Erie City Councilman Jim Thompson, started the flower shop nearly 60 years ago, eventually moving it into the East 10th Street location that had previously been home to other family businesses.

Today, Ruth, who also runs the ANNA Shelter and a property management company, is gradually passing the flower shop business on to her daughter, Rosealena Thompson.

Rosealena has been part of the business since she helped out as a child.

Back then, she came up with her own flower arrangements that her mom displayed in the shop – though they were, as Ruth laughingly describes now, “hideous.”

Today, however, Rosealena’s arrangements are colorful and creative – and are boosting business.

She’s also been marketing the business on social media, and making connections in the community.

“Maybe she’s found her niche,” Ruth says of her daughter.

For Ruth, it’s a comfort to see her daughter embrace the business that has been in the family for more than 50 years – in a building that was built by the family in the 1800s.

“Just the idea of someone else having this – the idea of closing it was so hard,” Ruth says.

About Rosebud Flower Shop: The family had previously owned other businesses, including a general store and a hardware shop, at the East 10th Street building. Though the flower shop used to get walk-in traffic, especially in the heyday of GE and Hammermill, today the majority of sales are made online. Other family members join Ruth and Rosealena at the shop, including Ruth’s mother, JoAn, and several siblings. “People say they have a family business. This, literally, is our family’s business,” Ruth says.

Why Erie County: The family’s roots are, of course, vital to why Ruth Thompson remains anchored in Erie – and, more specifically, remains committed to the city’s lower east side. “I can’t imagine leaving this corner,” she says. “I’ve had several opportunities. But this place is our roots.” She also sees continued support from Erie residents in supporting small businesses. “Flowers are a luxury. Same with eating out. People say how horrible the economy is, but people are still buying flowers, and people are still going out to eat,” she says.

Challenges of Erie County: Ruth Thompson’s biggest challenges should be familiar to any small-business owner – trying to juggle all the work that needs to be done. Trying to do the jobs of several people – a necessity for a small business – means that some aspects of the business inevitably get the short shrift.

Address: 660 E. 10th St., Erie, PA 16503 or www.rosebudflowershop.com

 

Coming next week: We check out the operations at Curtze Food Service, also in the City of Erie

 

A. Anthony & Sons

During my visit to A. Anthony & Sons Inc., one thing that stood out to me is the company’s dedication to tradition.

That tradition is evident in the framed photos of earlier generations hanging on the wall of an office.

But there’s also a much, much older tradition to consider – one that dates back centuries.

After all, as company Vice President John Rahner describes, A. Anthony’s concrete mixing follows some of the same essential principles that were established in Roman times.

That includes using Lake Erie sand and crushed limestone from quarries in Michigan and Canada in the concrete mix, in order to guarantee a better product. River/field stone is cheaper, Rahner says, but it’s not as good in our climate for longevity.

The focus on quality is something that the current owners – the fourth generation of the Anthony family – learned from the earlier generations. Rahner’s wife, Peggy Anthony Rahner, is the company president, and other branches of the family are represented as well.

Their Anthony ancestors started the business as a small operation in 1939, and grew the business by adding the batch plant in 1972. That purchase, though originally done out of necessity to get the concrete transported to sites in Erie, proved to be a successful enterprise that continues to boost the company.

Today’s owners still face challenges, including the unpredictable weather that all-too-often dictates the concrete placement schedule. But overall, the Rahners say they are content with their company, and with a business that allows them to create a tangible product for their customers.

“You want a business where at the end of the day, you can say, ‘That was a good day,’” John Rahner says. “And there’s a lot of good days.”

About A. Anthony & Sons: The company, which employs 37 in a full season, operates a ready-mix division, which brings in roughly the same amount of business as concrete placement. The company consumes most of the mix it produces. The majority of the company’s business is in commercial and construction work, though they also do residential work and new building. Some of their work can be seen around the community, including at the Prep and Villa Events Center, the Hagen History Center, and the fountain in Perry Square.

Why Erie County: The business has found a secure footing in the Erie economy. Residents are still investing money in their properties, the Rahners said, In addition, they anticipate an uptick in business as a result of some of the large-scale construction projects cropping up in the county. While the larger concrete firms will likely bid on those big projects, some of the residual work will trickle down to A. Anthony & Sons. Beyond that, the Rahners say, are the characteristics that are unique to Erie. “I’ve lived other places, and you just can’t duplicate the quality of life here anywhere else,” John Rahner says. “And everyone knows your name,” Peggy Rahner adds.

Challenges of Erie County: Some of the challenges that A. Anthony faces have more to do with the nature of the work than anything else. The work requires physical labor, and that can wear on employees – some of whom have been doing that hard work with the company for decades. Efforts to find young, willing workers have been mixed. In addition, the company has found it challenging to work with a bevy of regulations – some on the municipal level, dealing with issues like permits and storm water management, all the way up to agency regulations on the state andfederal levels.

Address: 1450 W. 21st St., Erie PA 16502 or www.anthonyconcrete.com

Purple Peacock, Epiphany’s Emporium and Pipit’s

It’s hard to believe, but here we are at Week 18 of my 50 in 50. This week, I decided to take a break from the usual format. Instead of visiting one business, I visited several – all along the City of Corry’s Center Street stretch.

The timing seemed serendipitous: Last week, when I visited, was PA Small Business Week, and it was also the Corry Downtown Business Association’s first First Fridays event of the season. On top of that, three downtown Corry business – the Purple Peacock Candle Company, Epiphany’s Emporium and Pipit’s – were celebrating their grand openings or grand re-openings.

The Corry Downtown Business Association (CDBA) was formed by a group of Corry small-business owners who were looking for ways to support each other and spread the word about Corry’s downtown shops.

Purple Peacock owner Alice Muir, one of the CDBA’s unofficial leaders, says the group began with several business owners “banding together to see if we could get something to happen.”

That “something” included launching the First Fridays events, which returned for 2017 this past Friday. The CDBA’s 15 members also meet regularly to brainstorm ideas to spur business – such as brushing up on their social media skills – and to offer support to their fellow small-business owners.

Slowly, but steadily, the CDBA is making an impact in Corry. It is helping to promote the idea of shopping locally (by supporting both local business owners and local artisans), and it is reinvigorating Corry’s main thoroughfare.

For Miki Hammond, owner of Pipit’s, the mission is simple: “We all have a vision for our town and what we want it to be.”

Purple Peacock Candle Company

My first stop in Corry was at the Purple Peacock, which recently moved down the block into a larger space.

The room, with signature purple walls and shelves, offers a variety of handmade items, notably owner Alice Muir’s hand-made candles and bath products, which really launched her business. Some uniquely scented soy candles share shelf space with traditional scents, but all – yes, even “Sasquatch Poop” and “Unicorn Toots” – smell uncommonly good.

In addition to the candles, Muir offers refurbished furniture and a variety of home décor items, some rustic and hand-painted by local Corry artists, some offering a touch of whimsy. And, of course, there were peacock statues scattered around, just begging for a selfie.

For Muir, who has owned businesses before, the Purple Peacock is a chance to be her own boss and to sell her hand-made products in a storefront, in addition to in her Etsy shop. And the CDBA is a chance to connect with other businesses and to see her store, and the Corry community overall, thrive.

Purple Peacock Candle Company: 109 N. Center St., Corry, 16407 or www.facebook.com/purplepeacockcandles

Epiphany’s Emporium

My next stop in Corry was at Epiphany’s Emporium, an eclectic little shop that was celebrating its grand opening.

The store is next-door to the Painted Finch Gallery, a favorite shop of mine. Epiphany’s Emporium is owned by Painted Finch owner Wendy Neckers.

By the time I made my way into Epiphany’s, the crowds had started to flow in. A big draw at Epiphany’s was the taste-test table set up in front of a wall of uniquely flavored craft soda pops.

Valerie Beckerink, who manages the store for Neckers, her sister, expertly described the different flavors – some of which come from as far away as England.

Aside from the pop bottles, Epiphany’s offers an array of interesting items, including whimsical clocks, fun handbags, and exquisite journals and pens. One corner features a variety of art supplies, and racks near the register display handmade greeting cards.

While some of the items in Epiphany’s are made locally, Beckerink says she would like to see more items originate from Corry-area artisans.

Epiphany’s Emporium: 34 N. Center St., Corry, PA 16407 or www.facebook.com/EpiphanysEmporium

Pipit’s

My next stop was Pipit’s, where owner Miki Hammond was setting up the store for a children’s fashion show that was planned for later in the evening.

Pipit’s was celebrating its grand re-opening, after moving up the block to a larger space. I also got to chat with Miss Erie County Dakota McElravy, a Corry native who was on hand for the grand re-opening.

Looking around the shop, it was clear to see Pipit’s specialty: Children’s clothes – specifically, adorable handmade frocks for little girls.

Hammond sews the pieces, and even has a workshop set up in Pipit’s so customers can watch her work. The pieces are not just professionally done, they are also one of a kind.

She also has cultivated a presence online, providing personal service to customers near and far.

Hammond is proud that her enterprise, just a few years old, has already expanded into a larger space – and she hopes that one day, she’ll be able to expand again, including by hiring staff to help with the sewing. It’s a dream, she says, to one day be able to provide good jobs in her community.

Pipit’s: 36 N. Center St., Corry, PA 16407 or www.facebook.com/PipitsDresses

A. Duchini Inc.

A. Duchini Inc. has been a fixture on Erie’s east side for generations. That legacy was evident as we toured the site.

Inside the office, current owner Jim Duchini describes the people and places in the black-and-white photos that hang on the walls. His grandfather, Italian immigrant Avellino Duchini, founded the company in 1932, and his father and uncles later took over the business.

Outside in the brickyard, Jim Duchini points out a building that was in one of those old photos. Inside a storage area, he points out rows of molds – still used on the site – that were made by a company run by a man posing in one of the old photos.

That history continues to influence A. Duchini Inc. now, 85 years later. Jim Duchini talks with pride about how the company donates block to build baseball dugouts in honor of his uncle. That’s just one example of how A. Duchini Inc. has given back to the community – and to other companies.

Jim Duchini is forging ahead with the same principles that guided his father and grandfather: Create a quality product. Serve the customer. And give back to the community.

About A. Duchini Inc.: The company got its start thanks to the entrepreneurial drive of Avellino Duchini. He was an experienced mason, and when the company stopped making blocks, he bought the machine and started making hand-molded blocks himself. The company now uses much higher-tech machinery to produce products including block, bricks and pavers. The company also manufacturers specialty masonry that is more energy efficient. The company sells real and man-made stone to both construction firms and homeowners; sells and installs fireplaces; and also operates an Ace Hardware store on site.

Why Erie County: Avellino Duchini ended up in Erie, where he had family members, after he came to the U.S. from Italy in the 1920s. It has been home for the Duchini family ever since. Today, A. Duchini Inc. has deep roots in the community, with its products present in many familiar buildings around the area. Current owner Jim Duchini is a third-generation owner; his children, who are also involved in the company, represent a fourth generation of Duchinis in the family business.

Challenges of Erie County: Building regulations, and in particular the inspection regulations that are used by the city of Erie and other municipalities in Erie County, have been hard on the company’s business, Jim Duchini says.

Fun fact: The A. Duchini Inc. facility is capable of producing tens of thousands of blocks per day.

Address: 2550 McKinley Ave., Erie, PA 16503 or www.duchini.com

Skelton Farms

Looking across the fields of Skelton Farms in Washington Township, you can see how past and present have come together. An outbuilding dates to the days when this land was a dairy farm. Alpacas share space with chickens. Beef cattle graze in a grassy pasture.

These are all signs of what co-owner Trish Skelton calls the “evolution” of Skelton Farms – and also signs of what has kept the farm thriving.

“You have to evolve, or you’re not going to stay around,” she says.

When she and her husband, Terry, decided to take over the farm that had been in her husband’s family for years, they decided to branch out from dairy farming, seeking an operation that could guarantee a more steady cash flow.

At one point, they added alpacas, which proved to be a great asset. But when the fiber market started to dip, they branched out again, this time to grass-fed beef.

Trish Skelton had done her research into the health benefits of grass-fed beef – “I knew beef was going to be big,” she says – and the family decided to stake their future on it.

That was an evolution that continues to prove successful for the farm. As the Skeltons have steadily, and selectively, grown their herd of Piedmontese beef cattle, they have found their niche in offering healthier meat to customers in Erie County.

Skelton Farms is still dabbling with evolution: They grow their own pesticide-free, herbicide-free hay, to ensure their cattle are fed the highest-quality grass year-round. (“We’re meticulous about it,” Trish Skelton says.) They’ve allotted land for the next generation – Trish and Terry Skelton’s son – to experiment with growing vegetables.

Meanwhile, they’re still tracking the grass-fed beef market, while still keeping an eye on opportunities to expand.

“We’re satisfied with beef for right now,” Trish Skelton says.

About Skelton Farms: Skelton Farms is focused on providing a healthier meat option for customers, who buy the beef for home use. The beef that they sell is leaner, with good fats, healthier cholesterol and a higher level of Omega-3. Because of the genetic makeup of the Piedmontese breed, the meat is naturally tender – without requiring the marbling that usually is present in tender beef. The health benefits of the grass-fed beef are a selling point for Skelton Farms, and are what brings in most customers.

Why Erie County: Terry Skelton’s family has been farming in northwestern Pennsylvania for generations, and his father purchased the Washington Township property after World War II. So Skelton Farms’ roots run deep in Erie County, and the current owners are content with that. Trish Skelton says that one of the highlights of her job is meeting customers, and she takes pride in the Skelton Farms operation. “I like supplying healthy, grass-fed beef to the people of Erie County,” she says. “It’s very satisfying, even if it’s not always easy.”

Challenges of Erie County: The challenges that face Skelton Farms are echoed throughout family farms across the county, and across the country. Cash flow is a constant challenge, as is the unpredictable weather, which can make or break a season. Some challenges are unique to Skelton Farms, however. Educating customers about the health benefits of grass-fed beef is an ongoing challenge, Trish Skelton says. Other challenges come in the form of state and federal regulations. Skelton Farms, for example, would qualify for organic certification, except for the fact that they don’t use a certified-organic butcher – the closest is four hours away. Other regulations mandate that the Skeltons must sell their cattle before slaughter, rather than selling packaged meat, because of the uncertainty of using a USDA butcher in Erie County. They are hopeful, however, that pending legislation might alter those rules enough to allow them to use their preferred custom butcher, so they can continue to expand their options for their customers.

Fun fact:  Skelton Farms prides itself on the fact that the cattle are humanely raised, never confined, fed only grass, and never given antibiotics or growth hormones.

Address: 13388 Cambridge Springs Road, Edinboro, PA 16412 or www.skeltonfarms.com

Great Lakes Automation Services

Two words immediately come to mind when I think about my recent visit to Great Lakes Automation Services Inc. in McKean Township: Service and pride.

For starters, Great Lakes Automation is designated as a Service-Disabled Veteran-Owned Small Business – and one that is proud of its contracts with the government, and even prouder of its hiring of veterans. Military photos of employees hang on a wall in the packaging division, and military memorabilia decorates office space.

The core of strength and dedication that distinguishes our military members also runs through Great Lakes Automation’s approach to serving its customers.

The company, which designs, manufactures, assembles and ships machines that automate production lines, has been steadily building its business since the current owners purchased it in 2002. They added the packaging and kitting division in 2007, and then acquired Clifton Machining, in Lake City, in 2009.

The company’s leaders – including CEO Ken Fisher and President Mark Fatica – remain committed to providing quality products to their customers. That means fine-tuning automated machine to a customer’s specifications, or developing their own tests to guarantee that products – some of which are used by U.S. troops – will work in the field.

That dedication has paid off in return customers, Fatica says.

“We satisfy the customer, and they come back to us,” he says.

About Great Lakes Automation: The company, which collectively employs about 65 workers, has been at the McKean facility since 2009. Great Lakes Automation largely serves companies in a 300- to 400-mile radius, though it has done business as far away as California, and even in China and Mexico. In addition to working with prime contractors to the federal government, particularly the Department of Defense, the company also works with the automotive, medical device, electronics and consumer goods industries.

Why Erie County: The company’s leaders find Erie County a good location for their business – it has a reasonable cost of living, which keeps business expenses down. For workers, that means that the grass is often greener here, when it comes to how far a dollar will stretch. “Moving into here is easy,” Fatica says. “Moving out of here is tough. You don’t get what you get here anywhere else.”

Challenges of Erie County: Great Lakes Automation, like many manufacturers, is facing an aging workforce and is seeking younger skilled workers. The business requires a variety of skill sets, including mechanical engineers, electrical engineers, tool and die workers, and employees who assemble and package components. They would welcome community college programs that would teach young people the skills they need for the manufacturing floor. “Nobody teaches this anymore,” says Fisher. “So we have to teach it.” In addition, the company would like to see greater collaboration among Erie County businesses, in order to both speak with a louder voice and to support each other.

Fun fact: Great Lakes Automation Services has handled more than 900 installations of automated systems globally.

Address: 8835 Walmer Drive, McKean, PA 16426 or www.glasi.us

 

Coming up next week: We head out to Washington Township to visit Skelton Farms.

Escape Game Erie

Escape Game Erie’s new Millcreek location is in a historic house – built in 1825 – that once was an inn, a tavern, a post office, a general store and a stage coach stop, among other things. It’s fitting, then, that the building’s new use is not just unique but diverse.

Downstairs, a room has been transformed into a ship captain’s quarters, circa 1813. Upstairs, a “crime scene” tape stretches across a room that contains “Da Vinci’s Secret.” Other rooms in the building, which is on the National Register of Historic Places, stand ready to become new puzzle rooms.

Owners Jennifer and David Wedzik, who bought Escape Game Erie in June 2016, opened the Millcreek location to expand their options for games. The original location, in downtown Erie’s Meiser Building on West 10th Street, is still going strong with its current two games – “Abducted” and “Forgotten Laboratory.”

The Wedziks bought the business in June 2016 from the original owners, who were from Pittsburgh. The Wedziks had played escape games with their family in other cities and were hooked on the concept.

They see it as an opportunity to offer a unique experience not just for Erie residents, but for tourists as well.

Tourism currently accounts for about 30 percent of Escape Game Erie’s business. The Wedziks are looking forward to the summer travel season, to see if they get a boost in business. They’ve made strides in promoting the game to tourists, working with VisitErie and cultivating a reputation on TripAdvisor.com.

“It’s something that’s fun and different,” Jennifer Wedzik says of Escape Game Erie. “This is something that big cities have. It’s nice to be able to bring that to Erie.”

On a recent rainy Friday evening, my staff and I, along with a few friends, found ourselves locked inside the “Escape the Niagara” room. The local flavor of the story – we had to outwit our captors and escape in time to warn Oliver Hazard Perry about the British – proved too tempting for us to resist.

I won’t give away any secrets of the game, but I will say that we made it out just under the wire – with four minutes left on the clock. As Jennifer Wedzik had predicted, each team member brought something unique to the puzzle-solving process.

For me, underlying the fun of this particular game was a sense of pride in the history of Erie County – and that’s part of the draw for Jennifer Wedzik, a self-proclaimed history buff, as well.

“‘Escape the Niagara’ was a natural connection with Erie,” she said. “It just made so much sense. It brings that connection home.”

About Escape Game Erie: Escape games started as mobile apps in Japan, and then took off as in-person experiences, Jennifer Wedzik says. The trend made its way to the United States several years ago, and various escape games began popping up in larger cities. Escape Game Erie opened in 2015. The Wedziks, who hire a professional game designer to create their puzzle rooms, are currently working on adding new games. The business appeals to a wide range of people – from kids’ birthday parties to grandparents, Jennifer Wedzik says. Companies use it for corporate team building, but it’s also a fun option for couples looking to socialize or spend a special night out, she says.

Why Erie County: For the Wedziks, Erie County is home. The family has lived in other locations around the country but was happy to return to their roots. In addition, the Wedziks are pleased to be able to bring something unique to the community – something that they see as supplementing the already strong tourism draws of Erie County.

Challenges of Erie County: Jennifer Wedzik says part of the biggest challenge for the business is getting the word out to the public – and also educating the public about what to expect when they play the game. It’s not scary at all, she says – instead, it’s about finding clues, solving puzzles and working as a team. The owners also found themselves frustrated by some municipal “red tape” as they worked to move into their new location.

Fun fact: Escape Game Erie donates $2 of every ticket for the “Escape the Niagara” game to the Flagship Niagara League.

Address: 4838 W. Ridge Road, Erie, PA 16506 and 23 W. 10th St., Erie, PA 16501 or www.escaperoomerie.com.

 

Coming up next week: We visit Great Lakes Automation Services in McKean Township.

Larson Texts

Although Larson Texts specializes in teaching math, my visit to the Millcreek Township office left me with a different lesson: Perseverance.

As CEO Matthew Totzke describes, the company was launched after Dr. Ron Larson, a professor at Penn State Behrend, tried to write four different mathematics textbooks over the course of six years. When he finally succeeded in capturing a publisher’s interest, he got not one offer but 15.

“He hit upon something that really resonated,” Totzke says.

That “something” was a student-centered approach to teaching math. And Larson continued that mission, joining with fellow Behrend professor Bob Hostetler and expanding Larson Texts over the years.

Though Larson Texts built a steady business writing textbooks for other publishers, that undercurrent of perseverance emerged again. This time, it pushed the company to take on a new enterprise – an undertaking that, while challenging, nevertheless held the promise for a big future.

In 2008, Larson Texts launched its Big Ideas Learning subsidiary, which would allow the company to publish and sell its own textbooks. The enterprise, which puts Larson “in control of our own fate,” according to Totzke, shows how the company has embraced a true entrepreneurial spirit.

The perseverance to pursue Big Ideas has paid off for the company. In spring 2018, the company plans to launch its K-5 textbooks, which would give it a full K-12 product line in mathematics.

A few months later, the company plans to be putting the finishing touches on an expansion of its current headquarters, which is inside the renovated former Belle Valley School. The new 35,000-square-foot space will allow the company to continue to expand – which it has been doing steadily since the launch of Big Ideas, growing from about 50 employees then to more than 100 now.

Through it all, the company has remained true to its original philosophy: Help the reader. That was Dr. Larson’s idea for his student-centered text, and it’s how Larson Texts continues to operate. These days, that includes supplementary study aids for students (while other companies charge extra for that, “we give it away for free,” Totzke says) as well as thoughtfully designed texts for teachers.

“It’s the same for every book,” Totzke says. “We construct our materials in a way that respects those using it.”

About Larson Texts: The company, which still writes textbooks for other companies as well as publishing its own, employs a stable of mathematicians and educators, as well as graphic artists, typesetters, marketing professionals and more. The company can count itself among the top three or four K-12 mathematics textbook companies, Totzke says.

Why Erie County: One of the biggest advantages is proximity to universities, where the local math programs consistently turn out high-quality graduates, Totzke says. Larson Texts uses some of those college students to staff a help desk, where young textbook users can get homework help via chat. And if the upcoming expansion is any indication, it is clear that Larson Texts has secured a long-term future in the community.

Challenges of Erie County: While Larson Texts has had good luck filling math-related positions, the company has faced some challenges hiring for other positions, including tech and marketing jobs. It’s partly due to the unique needs of an education-based company, Totzke says. He says the company has in the past found it difficult to get people to relocate to Erie County for a job, but that efforts to “sell” Erie have been better lately.

Fun fact: More than 5 million students study with Larson Texts books every year.

Address: 1762 Norcross Road, Erie, PA 16510 or www.larsontexts.com

 

Coming up next week: We check out Escape Game Erie, one of the county’s most popular new attractions.

 

 

 

 

 

Hurry Hill Maple Farm

My visit to Hurry Hill Maple Farm, in Franklin Township, came at the tail end of the maple syrup season – a fact that was confirmed by owner Jan Woods.

“Hear that? Those are the peepers,” she said, after we stopped by the sugarhouse. “That means spring is here. The season of mud and snow is over.”

The sugarhouse, a rustic little building tucked away in the trees, is situated down the road from the main building that greets visitors to Hurry Hill Maple Farm.

The main building – a repurposed cattle barn – houses a small shop and a detailed museum. The museum, which highlights the history of syrup making, is designed around the driving force behind Hurry Hill: The 1957 Newbery Award-winning book “Miracles on Maple Hill,” by one-time Edinboro resident Virginia Sorensen.

The book, about a family’s experiences after moving to the countryside and befriending syrup makers, features real-life local figures. Woods, a former school principal, uses Hurry Hill to showcase the book as well as preserve the sugar-making tradition that it details. The end result, Hurry Hill Maple Farm Museum Association, is a blend of history and agriculture.

As part of that preservation, Woods relies on the old ways to tap her trees and make her maple syrup. Silver buckets, some overflowing with clear, waterlike sap, hang beneath spiles from the trees in her maple orchard. There is no network of modern tubes weaving among the trees to collect sap at Hurry Hill. Instead, they do it the way the Chris family did in “Miracles on Maple Hill.”

Besides, Woods says, “No one wants to come take pictures of tubing.”

But savvy uses of technology surface around Hurry Hill, including on a walking trail. Visitors can use their smartphones to scan QR codes on signs, so that they can download information about each location around the property.

It’s just another way that Hurry Hill is weaving together present and past, in order to unite today’s families with history, agriculture and literature.

About Hurry Hill Farm: The operation, like dozens of sugarmakers in the Erie County region, reaches its peak in late winter and early spring. The sap needs several days of the freeze-at-night, thaw-during-the-day cycle to get going, Woods says. But it is open beyond the syrup season. Hurry Hill – including the shop, filled with glowing amber flasks of pure maple syrup and other maple products – is open in spring and fall, and the museum also welcomes groups for private tours.

Why Erie County: Hurry Hill is unique in that it is inextricably tied to its location – not just to Erie County, but to that specific area outside Edinboro that is the real-life Maple Hill. A driving tour, listed on Hurry Hill’s website, even lists locations from the book. In addition, Erie County is square in the maple syrup-making region, which stretches from northeastern U.S. and Canada across the Great Lakes.

Challenges of Erie County: Woods says her biggest challenge might be in getting publicity for Hurry Hill, particularly for the museum. As it highlights the local connection to Pennsylvania’s only Newbery winner, she would like to see a stronger connection to other tourism opportunities in the county. In addition, she is seeing fewer tours of students, as schools are working with limited budgets and greater attention to standardized testing.

Fun fact: Hurry Hill welcomes about 4,000 visitors per year.

Address: 11424 Fry Road, Edinboro, PA 16412 or www.hurryhillfarm.org.

 

Next week: We brush up on our math skills at Larson Texts in Millcreek Township.

Dovetail Gallery

Owner Gary Cacchione’s creativity and enthusiasm are clearly evident in Dovetail Gallery’s offices and workshops, situated in a renovated building on Erie’s east side. The offices are decorated with colorful works of art, and the workshop areas are airy and bright.

Dovetail Gallery, which specializes in upscale architectural millwork, has been at the location since 1992, and the business is looking to expand, Cacchione says. That potential growth is a reflection of the current offerings, but it also represents a vision for a new product line that Cacchione has in his sights.

If history is any guide, Cacchione’s vision might prove fruitful. It was, after all, his concept that launched his business in the first place.

He took a roundabout path to becoming a craftsman and businessman. He originally went to college to be a doctor, but realized that medicine wasn’t his passion – and therefore wasn’t his path in life. He did some work in building and construction, after watching his father in the workshop for years. He ended up building a desk and credenza for a family member who worked at a high-end Washington, D.C., law firm. That gave him connections to other clients and architects, and his business was born.

Now, Dovetail Gallery does high-quality custom work for commercial projects across the country. The company works predominantly with general contractors on high-end facilities in major cities, with only a small portion of its work going into local homes and businesses. As a result, the company brings about $4 million into the local economy each year.

It’s a successful enterprise rooted in Erie County, one that was the result not just of hard work and talent, but also of a willingness to take a chance – to blend all three in order to achieve your dream.

For Gary Cacchione, that chance paid off, and provided him with not just a profession, but a passion.

“I like my job,” he says. “I really do.”

About Dovetail Gallery: The business, which was incorporated in 1985, has made its mark on swanky casinos and posh restaurants in the nation’s largest cities, and even on facilities around Erie. Though the company is known for its woodworking, it also does some work in metal, glass and plastic. The company’s staff, which fluctuates based on orders, is currently at about 20, but Cacchione anticipates that he’ll be back up to a full staff of about 30 employees soon.

Why Erie County: Cacchione, an Erie native, finds that his roots in the community can translate to connections. Connections also helped him overcome some of the challenges of his business, including finding employees with the appropriate cabinet-making skills. He began working with Karen Ernst, who teaches woodworking and furniture design at Edinboro University’s Art Department, to help him find trained workers.

Challenges of Erie County: Aside from the above-mentioned challenges in finding skilled woodworkers, Cacchione cites some of the expenses that can be significant for any small business. He also points out that it can be difficult to get lending as a small business in Erie County, since many of the banks make their lending decisions out of town.

Fun fact: Dovetail refers to a style of interlocking joint used in woodworking.

Address: 352 E. 18th St., Erie, PA 16503 or www.dovetailgalleryinc.com

 

Coming up next week: We head out to Franklin Township to tour (and taste) Hurry Hill Farm.

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