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Metro ink - 10-25-06 

Metro ink


The Thurston Y's Ken Lee, with TeenCity members. - PHOTO BY JUSTIN REYNOLDS

Before Coty Harris joined TeenCity at the Thurston Street YMCA, he says, he spent his time "just hanging outside walking up and down the street."

"I got nothing at home to do," says Coty, a freshman at WilsonFoundationAcademy. Others, like Ayonna Titus, a seventh-grader at Frederick Douglass Preparatory School, say it's hard to learn at school. "People be cussing out the teachers and stuff," says Ayonna, who tried to get into Wilson, but got placed on a waiting list.

Helping students like Coty and Ayonna is the purpose of TeenCity, says Ken Lee, executive director of the Thurston Y. First and foremost, says Lee, the program is designed to provide a safe haven for students. Second, he says, it's intended to help them in school. For five years, the program has been funded through an annual $25,000 Community Develop Block Grant and matching grants from the city's YMCAs. Although the Y has completed the five years of its allotted funding, last week City Council approved a year of transitional funding for the program.

Students in TeenCity participate in a wide range of activities, mostly academic, including a two-hour "homework café." Participation in the program is voluntary, and students don't have to be Y members to join.

Lee, who headed the TeenCity program before being promoted to executive director in January, says he wasn't sure how popular an academic-based program would be. "I was caught between giving them what they want and giving them what they really need," he says. "What I've decided to do is focus on the things that I know are going to be beneficial for them later."

It seems to be successful. Typically, says Lee, between 150 to 200 students participate in the program every year. Anecdotally, students' grades appear to be improving. Lee hopes to quantify that next year.

Most TeenCity participants live within walking distance of the Y, and in recommending the transitional funding, city officials noted the escalation in the area's violent-crime rate. Coty also mentions the number of drug dealers in the neighborhood. "If you look out the window right now, I bet you see one," he says as he stands inside the teen center.

Lee says he has worked hard to create a safe environment around the YMCA. His commanding presence doesn't hurt, either. Well over 6 feet tall and built like a fire truck, Lee shoos two loiterers away from the Y parking lot as he sees me out the door. "They are also welcome," says Lee, who has tried to convince the same two boys to join Teen City in the past. But, he adds, unless they join, they're not allowed to hang around Y property.

The kids, says Lee, have already seen too much. One girl in the program was abused by two different men in her home, he says. Other children have witnessed drug arrests, gun violence, and homicides. Some in the program have lost parents to street shootings, says Lee, adding: "They're dealing with a lot more obstacles than going to school and doing their homework."

--- Sujata Gupta


Walls lined with rubber masks of everyone from George Bush to Frankenstein, bins full of hats and wigs, kits for making bloody gashes: they're just a few of the things you could find at King Sales. The store got its start after World War II, and no place else in Rochester had so many hand-made costumes, masks, makeup items, and accessories.

But the costume sales and rental business on Sager Street, off Culver Road near University Avenue, had its closing sale last weekend. Bob Larter, the store's owner since 1977, says competition --- from big-box chains like Wal-Mart and from seasonal costume stores that rent mall space near the holidays --- eroded his business. Adding to the pain: after 9/11 many businesses stopped having annual office celebrations.

Other stores offer inexpensive costumes and accessories, but Larter's has been unusual. "We encouraged our customers to come in and use their imagination and make their own costumes," he says. "There is absolutely no other experience like putting costumes together with your children. It taps into something in their mind that they never forget."

Larter also served customers who were looking for theater props and other hard-to-find items.

"The monsters, witches, and princesses: these were the costumes most people were looking for," says Larter. "But I had a school teacher come in once, and she looked a little frustrated. I asked her what she was trying to find. She says, 'I don't suppose you would have a pot-belly stove I could use for a school play.' I went in the backroom and pulled one out and said, 'You mean like this?'"

Larter says he realizes now that every business has a cycle, and it's important to recognize when it's time to sell.

"I can see now that I probably should have sold it a while ago, but it is hard to let go of something you are so passionate about," says Larter. "A little mom-and-pop business today has a really hard time competing, and the only word of advice I have is: constantly re-invent yourself. Find a niche and ride the wave, but know when to get out and move on to the next thing."

For Larter, the next thing is a custom balloon business, Celebrations Unlimited. He has been running it alongside King Sales for several years and will now make it a full-time venture, creating balloon decorations for weddings, business events, and other special occasions.

--- Tim Louis Macaluso


The city will likely lose a Prince Street company to the suburbs and the city will help it make that move. Representatives from Patient Info Systems, Inc., a health and care management company, evaluated 13 city locations before deciding that a location on Jefferson Road in Henrietta better suited their needs.

But the company wants to continue to take advantage of Empire Zone benefits for which it was eligible on Prince Street. The state allows for such variances if there is approval from the municipality from which the business is moving. City Council members approved the measure at their meeting last week, but shared some reservations.

At a Jobs, Economic Development, and CenterCity committee meeting earlier this month, Councilmember Dana Miller asked: "Do we really have to provide incentives for people to relocate to Jefferson Road?"

The city's Empire Zone coordinator, Beth Ehmann, said the primary rationale was to keep Patient Info Systems in the state. The company, which already employs more than 40 people, hopes to create more than 200 jobs over the next five years. And, she said, 16 companies have moved into the city because of Rochester's Empire Zone, compared to six that have left. "We've gained actually 600 jobs that have moved in from the suburbs," she said.

While agreeing in principle that the Empire Zone has helped Rochester, Councilmember Bill Pritchard said the state should re-evaluate the program, which was designed to help economically depressed areas. "It's gotten off track from its original intent," he said.

--- Sujata Gupta


At the Market: French granddaughter Sarah Brennan. - PHOTO BY KARA DOUGHMAN

Stepping inside The Dutch Market has always been a bit like walking into someone's home. It isn't really a restaurant, though food is served. And it isn't a grocery store, though a better selection of Dutch imports --- from cheese to condiments to crackers --- would be hard to find in Rochester.

Even though it has been a fixture on Park Avenue only since 1993, it has always felt like one of those quaint little shops from another era. While trendier restaurants and cafes have strived to create a European bistro feeling, the anti-chic Dutch Market is probably closer to the real thing.

But owners Sophia and William French have sold the building at 257 Park Avenue, and The Dutch Market will close on October 31.

The decision followed a difficult transition after their daughter Sophia "Betty" French, who operated the store, died in July 2005. A picture of Betty sits on a shelf behind the cash register, next to a vase of gladiolas.

With its rough wood floors, gingham tablecloths, and Wedgwood-blue wainscoting, the shop has maintained a simple, relaxing atmosphere. Shelves stocked with chocolates, cookies, and crackers (including Bolletje, a round crisp favorite of the Dutch) are usually priced by hand with a pen. A map of Holland in the front of the store is riddled with colored push pins, marking the origins of customers.

Homemade cakes, cured meats, and sausages; Pannekoeken, a Dutch take on crepes; more than a dozen different types of licorice (bearing no resemblance to our mildly sweet-tasting American version): all have been have been staples of The Dutch Market.

Like many of the store's customers, Sophia French herself is Dutch. Her father was a hat maker, and during World War II she was part of the underground movement to help Jews escape the Nazis. "It's the customers that have made this worthwhile," she says. "So many of them are our friends after all these years, and they would come in to talk and keep this connection to Holland alive."

The store is a descendant of The Holland Store, originally located on Main Street. "This will be the first time in 60 years that there hasn't been some type of Dutch store in the area," French says.

She tried to sell the business, even going so far as mailing a personal letter to hundreds of customers, asking if they were interested. There were no takers.

And now, with the announcement of the shop's closing, she finds herself surprised by the number of people who knew her daughter.

"We always thought Betty was kind of a loner," says French. "We had no idea she knew so many people. Every day someone comes in here with a story about something Betty did for them. We never knew."

--- Tim Louis Macaluso

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