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It's new, an old-fashioned store

WATKINS GLEN—Behind paper-shrouded windows, the storefront at the corner of Franklin and Third Streets is a hive of orchestrated activity. One group of people, purposeful as Santa’s elves, is setting up displays and arranging the front part of the store. Behind a curtain of hanging tarps further back, contractors, including his son, Jamie Guild, are painting, finishing floors, installing air conditioning and readying additional retail space.
On July 4, the doors will officially open on Jim Guild’s new enterprise, the Seneca Lake General Store. This is the third change of name and, Guild believes, the most descriptive—and he’s eagerly anticipating the excitement and sheer fun of the adventure.
The store was partly inspired by the magnificence of the building, a former hardware store built by the Peele family in 1897. Guild’s tour of the structure begins in its cellar, a solidly-built brick and stone foundation one contractor estimates would hold a building up for a thousand years. The cellar, like the second and third floors above the street, holds pallets of merchandise waiting to be unpacked and offered for sale.
Guild envisions this new store as a shopping destination divided into smaller retail areas. The lodge look is already apparent in the displays of chunky, rustic furniture built in Pennsylvania from reclaimed wood and sassafras limbs. Another area will feature “shabby chic.” Chocolatier Sue Sullivan, who formerly sweetened Franklin Street with a candy shop offering homemade confections and happens to be Guild’s sister, will preside over a candy-store area; an old-fashioned soda-fountain and lunch counter dubbed Havana’s Café in honor of Guild’s first grand-child will also be part of the mix. As will be a kitchen area, gift area, home and living department, a section with fun jewelry all kinds of good things that didn’t fit into the “Famous Brands” umbrella, Guild’s other major Watkins Glen enterprise? Yes, he admits.
Guild is optimistic about retail business in Watkins Glen. “Last year, when gas was $4.25 per gallon, Famous Brands had its best year ever,” he says. “It makes me think Watkins Glen is recession-proof.” Wal-Mart, bringing in 600 cars per hour, has helped Famous Brands, he says, though the two generally draw different markets. “And the new hotel’s been phenomenal,” he says, adding it’s caused him to extend retail hours at Famous Brands.
The Seneca Lake General Store will initially host 5,000 square feet of retail space on the ground floor, with additional space added as renovations proceed. The second floor was once a dress factory and more recently the office of the county attorney. The third floor attic space whose arched windows overlook other rooftops on Franklin Street will eventually showcase camping gear including kayaks and handmade red cedar Adirondack canoes. He points out a dumb-waiter that once hoisted dress materials upstairs to the seamstresses.
A large freight elevator at the rear of the store reminds him of another bit of local history. A young Tony Pulos was helping his father with its installation in the late 1940s when someone tapped Pulos on the shoulder and said, “I’ve heard you’d like to own a diner? I’ve got one for sale.” Pulos bought it and “Chef’s” became a local legend and landmark.
Clearly his interest in his surroundings and his general curiosity often lead to finds, like the whimsical china designed by television writer and painter Bridget Dobson. Dobson began a lifestyle company two years ago, before being lucratively recalled to her TV career. Guild saw her work at a gift show and bought it out two tractor-trailer loads full, now stacked in various locations throughout the building. Guild will be able to offer these at a fraction of their original price until they’re sold out and he finds something else interesting and unusual.
“I inherited the merchant gene,” Guild says, referencing his family’s original clothing business in Montour Falls. That storefront is now their antiques business. “And a lot of enthusiasm. I love to come to work in the morning. And I’ve got a fabulous staff!”
There is clearly no doubt in his mind that the store and the village are pointed towards lively economic vitality. “Look at this block!” he says, enthusiastically leading a short hike down the street. “Everyone here knows how to do things right!” He gestures to the other stores on the street, in a sweep extending toward Glen Mountain Market.  “This is going to be a GREAT block!”
Inside, in the unfolding retail area, more reinforcements have arrived to unpack and arrange. The large space, the number of boxes and the brief time before the store opens might look daunting. Isn’t it going to take a minor miracle to get everything done on time?
“Of course,” Guild agrees, unfazed by the prospect. “But we’ve done it before!”

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