By Jamie Swinnerton
The cold temperatures and falling snow didn’t stop the Downtown Ithaca Alliance from welcoming two new businesses and celebrating a business expansion last week, Jan. 4. In a series of ribbon cuttings, DIA and Mayor Svante Myrick took a few minutes of their morning to meet each of the owners of the three businesses and extend their thanks and praise for the entrepreneurship that went into each local addition.
The marathon of ribbon cuttings started at Bol, a new fast-casual, Asian inspired restaurant right on the commons. The business may be new but the owners are not. Richard Avery and Dean Servos are also the owners of Simeon’s restaurant right next door to Bol. “Serial entrepreneurs,” as Mayor Myrick referred to them as at the ribbon cutting.
“People who have shown that they care about the City, they run an institution in the middle of our entire county, and not being satisfied with staying next door, they bring something that had me excited from the moment I heard about it,” Myrick said. “I’m still excited, having been a customer for maybe five times already.”
Myrick offered the business owners the help of the City should they ever need it before offering his congratulations.
“We appreciate all that you’ve done with us, and what you’ve done for the community,” said Gary Ferguson, Executive Director of DIA.
“We’re just so happy to open up another business in downtown,” said Avery. “Obviously we believe in downtown Ithaca and all the growth that’s going on, that’s the reason why we made the investment here. Because of the investment that’s happened in our downtown.”
The second stop of the day was to Nikki Green, a vegan and plant-based eatery right next to Old Goat Gear Exchange on State St. Owner Jacky Falkenberg graduated from Cornell University hotel school in May and already has her own downtown business. Like at Bol, both Myrick and DIA thanked Falkenberg for making the investment.
“For choosing to make this business that is, frankly, custom built for Ithaca,” Myrick said. “Vegan-based, a beautiful environment, you can sit down or take it to go. It seems like we should have had 12 of them already.”
With construction across the street, right next door, and behind the business, some might see a tough environment for a new business. Myrick sees investment.
“It is my pleasure to welcome this exciting new business in the heart of what’s the most happening, exciting place to do business in Ithaca right now,” Myrick said. “The level investment behind your business, in front of your business, to the west and to the east, is amazing. But the truth is, it doesn’t matter how many buildings we have if we don’t have a vibrant retail economy, if we don’t have small businesses that are willing to take a chance and invest in our city, then nothing else matters.”
For Falkenberg, it was her passion for food and beautiful food presentation that led her to open her own restaurant. After working in a few fine dining businesses she decided that wasn’t exactly what she wanted to do with her own restaurant. Falkenberg has been a vegan for several years, but her sister is not. This is where the inspiration for the business’ name came from.
“My sister would always come home and see that I was making food and if the food looked good and smelled good enough she would have that instead of the meat, or whatever my dad was making that night,” Falkenberg said. “And I realized that if the food looked great then she wasn’t really thinking about how she was slowly eating more vegan meals, she was just enjoying that over the meat.”
The final stop of the day was a downtown staple: Comics for Collectors. The store has been operating for years, but only recently expanded when the book store next door closed. Following the closure of The Enchanted Badger, a local game store, there was an open niche for a business to host a spot for people to play board and card games in the area. Comics for Collectors new room does that, and more. Along one wall, in keeping with the spirit of the former business, were books, comics and graphic novels aimed at a young adult audience.
Myrick, no stranger to the store himself, said he “hoped to spend less than $100” during this trip to the store.
“It’s 2018 now, so you can buy everything online,” Myrick said, explaining why he still chooses to go into the comic book store. “But I never buy a comic book online because part of the joy for me is the shop, is the community that you find here. Especially if you have an owner that’s knowledgeable and cares about the work as much as you do, and cares about the stories, and in Tim [Gray] I think we have that here in Ithaca, which is wonderful. It is one of my favorite places to spend money downtown, it’s one of my favorite places to spend time downtown.”
Speaking of the game room, Myrick expanded upon the idea of a community created at a comic book store.
“This is another thing that you can’t buy online,” Myrick said. “This is an experience that you can’t have in a virtual way, the experience you get around people who have the same interests as you.”
Tim Gray, the owner of Comics for Collectors, has been in business downtown for over 30 years now.
“It’s great to see, when the opportunity presented itself, that you took the step,” said Ferguson. “It’s going to fill a need. There really is a need in this community for a game space and game room, and it’s a great legacy. A book store had been here for many, many years, and you’re sort of preserving a part of that.”
But it’s not completely finished yet. Gray said there was still some work to be done on the expansion, but it is open and ready to host the board game enthusiasts of the Ithaca community.