Businesses expand, add amenities in downtown Ithaca

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Tompkins Weekly Staff

That Ithaca’s downtown is growing is no surprise, with a myriad of construction projects showing clear evidence of that. And three businesses already operating in the heart of the city are adding to that with expansion efforts that are in progress or have recently completed.

Hotel Ithaca – owned and operated by Hart Hotels at 222 S. Cayuga St. across from the Cayuga Street Garage – underwent the most significant expansion. With the addition of 90 new upscale rooms in a new attached five-story building, the hotel now has 171 total rooms, as well as conference space and a banquet hall, an indoor pool and a restaurant – Max’s Classic American Grill. There is on-site parking, as well as parking available in the adjacent Cayuga Street Garage. At its opening ceremony, Hart Hotels President David Hart noted the company’s decision to reinvest in Ithaca, a figure totaling roughly $15 million.

Comics for Collectors is also expanding its footprint on North Aurora Street, as owner Tim Gray signed a lease this fall for the neighboring space formerly occupied by Colophon Books. The shop’s space will double its size, increasing by roughly 700 square feet – the first expansion the business has experienced since moving to downtown Ithaca’s North Aurora location in 1994.

Gray says the growth in popularity for graphic novels for young readers and the increasing interest in fantasy-related, roleplaying games, along with the lack of space to provide newer items prompted him to increase the size of his store.

“We carry a lot of fantastic and new graphic novels for younger readers, but it’s hard for customers to see them on the shelves because they are scrunched together with all of the other graphic novels,” he said, adding the extra space will allow the business to also highlight the fantasy-related board games it already sells. “Often times people come into the store and they’re really interested in the games, but they’re apprehensive to buy them because they don’t know how to play them. With the extra space we’re going to create an area where we can provide customers with brief game demonstrations.”

Escape Ithaca – an interactive puzzle room that opened less than a year ago – moved across West MLK Jr./State Street into a 1,200-square-foot space nearly double the size of its former site above the State Theatre.

“We explored many different options and locations, and after the past year in business, we decided that being in Ddowntown Ithaca was the only logical choice,” said Escape Ithaca co-owner Ray Weaver. “We have found downtown Ithaca to be where the foot traffic is. We see Ithaca residents, tourists, young professionals, and students.

“We knew that we needed to expand when we had several customers asking for new rooms, larger groups, private parties, etc,” he added.

As a result of acquiring additional square footage, Escape Ithaca will soon offer a second escape room, the Sorcerer’s Study, an extremely popular escape room that made its debut in October 2016.

Gary Ferguson, executive director of the Downtown Ithaca Alliance, congratulated the businesses on their expansions.

“As evident by these and other Downtown Ithaca projects, the community is growing,” he said, “and it will continue to flourish as more residents, students, business professionals, and tourists recognize Downtown Ithaca as a place for fun, popular, and unique experiences and services.”

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