Sycamore Hill Gardens

IMPORTANT NOTE: This property is only open occasionally, and Mother’s Day is one of those days. Don’t show up without first checking their website for public events!

Owners: George and Karen Hanford (private home)

Address: 2130 Old Seneca Turnpike, Marcellus, NY

Website: http://www.sycamorehillgardens.com/

If you’re looking for a place to enjoy the gorgeous weather on Mother’s Day, don’t miss your opportunity to visit this local treasure. It only opens to the public a few times each year for fundraising events for local non-profits. Mother’s Day is one of those special days.

This Sunday (May 12) from 11 am – 4 pm, Sycamore Hill Gardens will be hosting its annual fundraiser for Baltimore Woods Nature Center. Adults are $12 this year (unless you bought tickets in advance at a discount), but children 8 and under are free. All of the money collected goes to support Baltimore Woods.

Sycamore Hill Gardens is the private home of George and Karen Hanford. Their property has an interesting history you can read about in greater detail on their website. In short, the Hanfords took a large dairy farm and set to work converting 40 acres of the land into a gardening masterpiece. The rest of the nearly 300 acres is now wildlife habitat and a large conservation area.

The area open for visiting this Sunday is one my family has visited several times. There is a fun hedge maze with a statue at the center (hint: it’s a character from Greek mythology), a Koi pond with stepping stones and a fountain, formal gardens, wooded areas, and a section with a musical touch, among other surprises. Each time we have gone, the flowers had bloomed early enough that we were told we could choose three flowers each to bring home with us, which was a nice surprise. You could easily spend a few hours here and find plenty of natural entertainment.

Parking is across the street and free. There are restrooms available (in the past it’s been port-a-potties), and they usually have some sort of food for sale. I would still recommend you bring water with you because the property is enormous and sunny (if we’re lucky). Don’t miss your chance to check out this local gem this year!

Edward Joy Electric, Syracuse, NY

Address: 905 Canal Street, Syracuse, NY AND 800 Valley Plaza, Johnson City, NY

Phone: 315-474-3361 (Syracuse) OR 607-203-2200 (Johnson City)

Website: http://www.edwardjoyelectric.com/

If you grew up in Central New York, chances are you already know about Edward Joy Electric. After all, the company has been locally owned and operated since 1875! (To save you the math, that’s 144 years.) In 2015, Edward Joy was honored as CenterState CEO’s Economic Champion. So this post is aimed at those of you who, like me, were not born and raised here and have to find the local secrets for yourselves.

At Edward Joy, you will find higher quality lighting (and a much wider selection) than you do at one of the big home repair stores. Their showroom is enormous and has tons of options for all budgets and preferences. They have indoor and outdoor lighting (including ceiling fans) for all areas of the house, as well as commercial lighting.

We have updated several lighting fixtures in our home with items from Edward Joy, including a dining room chandelier and bathroom fixtures. This month, we needed to replace our outdoor lights because our son broke one with his basketball (oops!) and it was the perfect excuse to finally ditch the lights I have hated since we bought the house. While we were at it, we finally decided to update the ceiling fans in the kids’ bedrooms and our guest room. The choice seemed overwhelming at first because they have so many options, but with the help of Edward Joy’s staff, the decision was made much faster than I expected.

What’s also nice is that with Edward Joy you have the option to buy the light bulbs you need right then and there. They tell you exactly which bulbs they recommend and give you options for cheaper bulbs if they have them. The staff are all really knowledgeable about the products they sell. If they don’t know the answer to your question, they will find someone in the store who does. I have a great deal of confidence that they are giving me legitimate information and not just guessing. In addition, they guarantee to beat any advertised price.

As mentioned in a previous post, my favorite place for antique lighting or lighting repair would be Robbin’s Rarities in Manlius, but Edward Joy is definitely my go-to spot for modern lighting fixtures. They have ALL range of prices, so whether you’re looking for unique or luxury lighting, or if you want something functional that won’t break the bank, you will find it here.

Edward Joy is right off of the Teall Avenue exit of I-690 in Syracuse, so it’s very easy to reach. (Since I live closer to Syracuse, I have never visited the Johnson City location.) Hopefully nobody else has to rush out to replace a light broken by a basketball (or baseball or soccer ball…), but whatever type of lighting you’re seeking, Edward Joy will be able to help.

The Cat’s Pajamas, Ithaca, NY

Address: Dewitt Mall, 99 East Seneca Street, Ithaca, NY

Phone: (607) 272-5582

Website: http://www.catspajamasithaca.com/

Social Media: Facebook, Instagram

There is something magical about walking into a store as a child and feeling surrounded by toys. That experience is sadly becoming far less common for the kids of today. First, Toys ‘R’ Us threatened to put small toy stores out of business, and then Toys ‘R’ Us went out of business last year. Big box stores, Barnes & Noble, and online stores are the most common places to find toys now, but small toy stores definitely still exist. They will only continue to thrive if people actually buy things from them, though! And shopping online or at a big box store simply does not provide the same experience for a child as being in a dedicated toy store. A haven of toys such as this exists in downtown Ithaca, and it’s called The Cat’s Pajamas.

The cozy Dewitt Mall is best known as the home of the world famous Moosewood Cafe & Restaurant, which my husband and I make a point of visiting every time we are in Ithaca. Moosewood itself is clearly a local treasure, but so far I have not decided to review restaurants on this blog. There are several other fantastic stores in the Dewitt Mall in addition to Moosewood and The Cat’s Pajamas, so even if you’re not in the market for toys or lunch/dinner, it’s worth visiting.

But back to the toys. This store is heaven for those who love Melissa & Doug. My kids have outgrown most of the toys we have from Melissa & Doug, but they are hesitant to part with them. In particular, their wooden puzzles hold a special place of affection for both kids. We bought most of them from the small toy store that went out of business in our town about four years ago. For a small store, the selection of Melissa & Doug products at The Cat’s Pajamas is vast, and there is something for any child there.

The Cat’s Pajamas has dress up clothes, dolls and stuffed animals, Folkmanis puppets, games, and several clothing items as well. And let’s not forget about their wall of sticker rolls behind the register. In my experience, kids never get tired of stickers, and seeing a wall full of sticker rolls is a real treat for any kid.

There are many great reasons to head to the Ithaca for the day, and add The Cat’s Pajamas to that list. Stop in to Moosewood for dessert afterwards – you won’t be disappointed!

Dutch Hill Maple Farm, Tully, NY

Owners: Nathan and Cristy Williams

Address: 1435 Dutch Hill Road, Tully, NY

Contact: 315-657-8116 or dutchhillmaple@gmail.com

Website: https://www.dutchhillmaple.com/

Social Media: Instagram, Facebook

It’s maple syrup season in Central New York, and my family loves all things maple. In particular, my daughter fell in love with Dutch Hill Maple Cream after we purchased some at Destiny over the winter. She likes it better than maple syrup, which is too liquidy for her tastes. However, I couldn’t find maple cream anywhere else. Finally, I just looked at the jar and contacted Dutch Hill Maple Farm, and they wrote a very nice email back to me that suggested we come to one of their Maple Weekends (March 23 – 24 and March 30 – 31). On the last day, we made it, and it was definitely worth the ride!

If you are about to stop reading because you don’t have time to head to Tully, or because you live too far away, please check out Dutch Hill Maple’s online shop here. You can pick up your item at a later time for free, or you can choose to have it shipped by priority mail. If you live far away, or if you’re buying several items, shipping would make sense.

However, if you can find the time to ride to Tully, I strongly recommend a visit when they are boiling the syrup, if possible. The boiler is modern and the whole process looks quite beautiful – you can peek through the window on the boiler to see the sap boiling down to syrup, or look up to marvel at the massive quantity of steam billowing up through the ceiling. Since Maple Weekends are now over, email the owners to see if it’s still possible to have a tour. Other upcoming events are listed on their website.

We participated in a fascinating tour with Kristina from the Cornell Cooperative Extension, who explained that Dutch Hill Maple has upgraded its technology in the last few years to increase the efficiency of the syrup-making process. She took us up into the woods to see the complex system of tubes and vacuums that bring the sap down the hill, and we were able to see all of the steps to production. It’s amazing how much sap (and work!) goes into making just one gallon of maple syrup. The process is summarized on their website here, but it’s much more exciting to see it in person.

A few years ago, I took a tour I would also highly recommend at Beaver Lake Nature Center that described the basic process of making maple syrup using taps and buckets and boiling by wood stove over many days. I also have a friend in Fayetteville who used to make his own maple syrup in his back yard, and his process was highly labor intensive. I have also visited bigger maple syrup producers who gave a nice tour, but I found Dutch Hill’s tour to be more intimate, with highly modern equipment that made this tour stand out to me. It’s clear that farms like Dutch Hill are at the cutting edge in maple syrup making, and it was an interesting contrast from what I had seen in the past.

But their modern technologies only matter if the taste makes it worth it, and my family (and our friends who joined us) can attest that their product is fantastic. Don’t just trust our judgment – there is an entire shelf on the back wall featuring the awards they have earned, and these awards are outlined on their About DHM webpage, which is definitely worth reading. It’s a nice story of a family farm that started very small and is continuing on with a new generation.

Robbin’s Rarities, Manlius, NY

Address: 109 Wesley Street, Manlius, NY

Phone: 315-682-6071

Website: https://www.robbinsrarities.com/

Social Media: Facebook

Robbin’s Rarities is a truly unique gem across the street from the Manlius Post Office, which is just off the main strip in the Village of Manlius. (Make a left off of Route 92 East at the Burger King, and make the first left on Wesley Street.) This is the kind of store that I hope stays around forever, because I don’t know of a nearby business that provides the same type of service. They have a wide variety of lighting fixtures on display, but there is far more to this business than just product sales.

Repair and reconstruction is one crucial part of their business. If you have a lamp that you truly love – modern or antique – but it’s stopped working, they will likely be able to repair it for you. Let me tell you a quick story about my personal experience here. Years ago, I inherited my grandparents’ antique Tiffany-style ceiling light. While growing up, this lamp was one of my favorite parts of their house, and I couldn’t wait to hang it in our new home. We had it installed by an electrician, and it successfully lit our kitchen table for several years. But one evening after dinner, it made a loud popping noise, sparked, and died. Changing the light bulb didn’t work. Devastated, I called the electrician, who recommended that I take it to Robbin’s Rarities.

I had popped into the store a couple of times and admired their lamps on display, but I had not been fully aware of their unique ability to repair just about any lighting fixture. A few weeks after leaving it in their hands, Robbin’s successfully returned my ceiling light to me, fully repaired, and it happily hangs over my kitchen table to this day. They also restore and refinish metal parts, so the metal portion of the lamp looked better than ever.

My grandparents’ Tiffany-style lamp, successfully repaired by Robbin’s Rarities

Probably the coolest service Robbin’s offers is custom-built lighting. If you make an appointment and bring in an item that you would like to see turned into a lamp, their craftsmen will work with you to create a one-of-a-kind lighting fixture. This is not a service you will find at a giant hardware store.

Robbin’s Rarities is also a good place to go for a new lamp shade. It’s hard to find quality lamp shades that are interesting and properly fit a lamp, and they do wear out over time as well. If you bring your lamp in, they will help you find the right one, and their website advertises a 10% discount for doing so. It’s a lot more affordable to replace the shade of a working lamp than to buy a new one, and a new shade will help spruce up the room and make it look like new.

If you’re going through spring cleaning in the next few weeks, keep Robbin’s in mind for those spots of the house that needed better lighting this winter, or for those lampshades that need replacement. If nothing else, it’s an enjoyable visit to see the unique lighting fixtures on display.

The Book’s End, Syracuse, NY

Address: 2443 James Street, Syracuse, NY

Contact: 315-437-0938, booksend@twcny.rr.com

Website: http://www.thebooksend.com

Social Media: Facebook

Happy Spring, friends! It’s a little warmer today and the sun is shining, so it seems a great time to get back to blogging. The last few weeks of winter were a whirlwind for us. We had a vacation shortly after my last post, and then we had a couple of illnesses in the family and a couple of family events that made it difficult for me to visit local businesses. But I’m back now and very excited to feature more great local businesses in the Central New York area. To give you a heads up, I am looking forward to covering the wider area of Upstate New York (hence the blog name “Local Treasures of Upstate New York”) this summer. For now, it’s hard to stray too far from home.

And speaking of home, one of the things that have always helped me feel at home is a great book store. If you have time to kill, if you’re meeting a friend, or if you need some intellectual or creative stimulation, a great bookstore is really good company. When I lived in Washington, DC, I worked near Kramer Books in Dupont Circle and spent lots of time there. In my last year in DC, we lived one block from Politics & Prose, and I wrote most of my Master’s thesis there. When I moved to Syracuse, I loved several book stores that have disappeared in the last 15 years, which I find incredibly depressing, but I’d like to count my blessings.

For shiny new books, we still have Barnes & Noble, which I truly think is a local treasure. They do wonderful things for the community and serve as a great meeting place for conversation and coffee/tea. However, Barnes & Noble is not a small business, which is the focus of this blog. And as much as I cherish B&N’s presence in our community and don’t want it to disappear (as it has from several other communities across the country), there is also an important niche that can’t be filled by the giant bookstore. Buying books online doesn’t cut it.

Several of my daughter’s friends have said they would love to bring back small-town bookstores to our village, and I think it would be fantastic to have one in each town. However, there are a few still around if you know where to look, and if we want to keep them there (or better yet, invite more to open!), then we should be sure to patronize them. The Book’s End near the Palace Theatre is one of those small bookstores still standing, and it’s absolutely worth a visit for any book-lover. The store opened on November 2, 1987, making it Syracuse’s oldest used bookstore.

First of all, let me emphasize there is no time like the present to visit! The Book’s End is running a huge sale starting today and ending on April 1st. Everything in the store is 25% off, so I thought this would be the perfect time to highlight their business. In addition, they have a frequent reader card that is punched for every $10 you spend. After $100, you earn 10% off your purchase, so save that for a future visit.

The Book’s End specializes in used, rare and out-of-print books, but that doesn’t mean they only have books that have been out for several years. They have several newer reads, and many books from the last couple of years. If you want to know if they have what you’re looking for, you can search on their website and even order online (though if you don’t find it on their website, you may wish to call – they state clearly on their website that some books aren’t listed online). Shipping is not free, but it’s reasonable, and their books are lower in price because they are secondhand.

One of my biggest concerns with a used book store is always a potential odor – I have visited plenty of bookstores where the books have a mildewy (or even moldy) odor, and I have a very sensitive nose and am allergic to mold. I didn’t detect any bad odors during a recent visit and was impressed with the cleanliness of the entire store.

They have a nice Children’s books section right up front, so I could let my children hang out there while I shop for myself – and shopping for myself is loads of fun here because there are so many choices in fiction and non-fiction. One thing I love about small bookstores like The Book’s End is their ability to sub-categorize the books. There aren’t just “Mysteries & Thrillers” but several smaller categories so you can browse and find exactly the kind of mystery you like. It makes it easier to find a hidden gem on the shelf and discover a new-to-you great author.

There is a sizable section of Large Print books, so I picked up a couple for family members that need them. In that area of the store, I also discovered their collection of antique postcards for sale, which are separated by location and type of photo. For anyone who collects postcards, this would be an enjoyable visit for sure.

If you have a shelf full of books in very good condition (or a few bins in the basement), give The Book’s End a call. They purchase books as well, so it may be a great way to clear out that space in your home and know the books are going to a good place.

A quick note on parking – there is a parking lot in the back of the building with free parking specifically for customers of The Book’s End. You can choose to pay for metered parking if you wish to be out front, but it’s nice to have the option.

Happy reading, and happy Spring!

Natur-Tyme, Syracuse, NY

Owner: Wendy Meyerson

Address: 3160 Erie Boulevard East, Syracuse, NY

Phone: 315-488-6300

Website: http://www.natur-tyme.com

Social Media: Facebook, Twitter

It’s the day before Valentine’s Day and you still haven’t bought a gift yet, so you run off to…. Natur-Tyme? Yes! Natur-Tyme is not just for vitamins and health food. There is so much to love about Natur-Tyme, and they carry a great selection of gifts throughout the year. In fact, I have regularly purchased Christmas and Hanukkah gifts there for years because their gift selection varies from year to year, and holiday to holiday. And, they have a customer loyalty card that allows you to accumulate rewards. If you become a regular customer, remember to come in on the 10th of the month to get an additional 10% off of your purchase. In addition, they send loyal customers a “thank you” gift card every year to say thanks for their business, so the more you spend there, the more you will ultimately save.

If you are looking for a quick, last-minute gift that someone will be excited about, here are some suggestions below:

CANDY. If you want to buy chocolates or other candy for your Valentine, there are many choices at Natur-Tyme, quite a few of which are Valentine-themed. And the great thing is they contain natural ingredients and are high quality, so you know they will taste good and be a little healthier than some other options. All of the food dyes are natural, not synthetic.

SALON GIFT CARDS. The Enhanced Beauty Salon at Natur-Tyme offers hair styling, massage, facials, waxing and makeovers (with packages available). They use natural products and have highly talented staff. I have my hair done there and people are usually surprised when I tell them the price. It’s very reasonable, and they do a fantastic job. I have also had a chair massage at one point, which was only 10 minutes long, but it felt longer because it was a genuinely good massage.

CAFE GIFT CARDS. The cafe is 100% gluten free and has tons of healthy and delicious options. It’s also quick, so it’s a great place to grab lunch during the work day. Smoothies and gelato are available for a treat, so a gift card there would be a fun gift.

BEAUTY PRODUCTS. I love the selection of beauty products available, including Natur-Tyme’s own line of products. Massage oil, essential oils, natural soaps, hair care and other pampering products would be great, and they have items for men and women. If you’re not sure what to buy, ask the sales person for help – they have always given me great advice and will help point you to the right product. They regularly have sales as well, so ask them if the item you’re interested in will be going on sale any time soon.

FOOD. There are lots of choices, so what might make a nice gift? There are a number of locally made food products, including olive oil from Olive, maple syrup, and Better Brittle. Or choose from their selection of teas and coffees.

If you’re already a customer of Natur-Tyme, then none of this was new to you. However, I regularly talk to people who are surprised when I tell them about the variety of products available at Natur-Tyme. They also have a great educational program that offers discussion and information to the community on health-related issues. The highlight of this is their Spring Into Health event at the New York State Fairgrounds, which will be held this year on Sunday, April 7th. If you haven’t visited Natur-Tyme since they moved to their new location, it’s absolutely worth checking it out.

Coleman Florist, Syracuse, NY

Owner: Peter and Joan Coleman

Address: 4000 East Genesee Street, Syracuse, NY

Phone: 315-446-0862

Website: https://www.colemanflorist.com 

Social Media: @syracusecolemanflorist (Facebook); @Colemanflorist

Coleman Florist is the third and last florist that I plan to feature in my pre-Valentine’s Day blog post series, which is soon coming to an end! (Hint – that means you have six days to find your Valentine the right gift!) I chose Coleman Florist for a few important reasons: quality of gift selection, commitment to service, and dedication to the wider community.

Quality is key, and you can count on that here. And Coleman is a great choice if you simply want to order flowers in-person or online, or to pick up a lovely houseplant from their on-site greenhouse. If you want a flower gift that’s longer lasting, they also offer a really cool option called the Flower Lovers Special, which delivers fresh flowers on a monthly basis. That’s a creative option if you want the flowers to keep coming.

Coleman also sells gift baskets of fresh fruit and/or gourmet food. Described in detail here, their fruit baskets are prepared fresh daily from a local fruit importer so that you know the fruit is truly fresh and delicious. There are so many places from which to order fruit baskets, but knowing that you’re getting fruit from a quality vendor is reassuring.

Coleman sells chocolates in the store and online from the Marcellus-based Chocolate Pizza Company, which was featured in my last post. They also offer customers a variety of other choices in their gift shop: silk flowers, fairy gardens, and other non-floral gifts. There are lots of options in addition to traditional flowers, and that makes Coleman stand out.

Although having a nice product selection is important, so is dedication to great service. After reading multiple reviews by satisfied customers, the consistent theme is that Coleman steps in when someone is in a pinch. The customer placed a delivery order last minute, and Coleman came through. The grocery store lost their order, and Coleman stepped up. For whatever reason, they waited until the day before the wedding to order flowers, and yet Coleman came through. That shows true dedication to satisfying customers.

Finally, Coleman stands out for caring about the wider community. I love that they offer a 10% discount to students of Syracuse University, LeMoyne College and Onondaga Community College. It’s an acknowledgement that college students usually have less spending money than employed adults, and also shows dedication to building a loyal customer base over the long term.

Coleman also has a glass recycling program that is both smart business and environmentally friendly. If you have vases sitting around that you aren’t using, make an appointment to have it evaluated in person. If they can use it, Coleman will buy your vase from you by crediting the value towards a floral order or by adding it to your account.

Parking is easy in Coleman’s lot on East Genesee Street in Syracuse, and it’s a pleasant experience to come in and look around. With their wide selection, you’ll be sure to find the right gift for your Valentine.

Chocolate Pizza Company, Marcellus, NY

Owner: Ryan Novak

Address:  3774 Lee-Mulroy Road (Rte. 175), Marcellus, NY

Phone:  315-673-4098

Website: https://www.chocolatepizza.com

Social Media: @chocolatepizzas (Facebook, Twitter); chocolatepizzacompany (Instagram)

It’s exciting when a small, local business hits it big, and that’s what has happened with the Chocolate Pizza Company in the last few years. If you’re not from Central/Upstate New York, there’s a very good chance you have heard of the Chocolate Pizza Company. According to the company website, they have sold products on six continents. The company has been featured in a number of TV specials and major magazines in recent years, and all of these links can be found on their About Us page if you’d like to see more.

If you have lived here for any length of time, though, you know CPC as a place that has been integral to its community, providing prizes for summer reading programs at local libraries and supporting charitable events. Additionally, it won’t be CPC’s fame that lures you in. You’ll come in for the delicious chocolate products available, and leave with something that will make an excellent gift for your sweetheart (or for yourself!).

For Valentine’s Day, there is a nice selection of items available on their Valentine’s Chocolate page. In addition to their signature Chocolate Pizza ® and Peanut Butter Wings ® , there are chocolate towers, gift baskets, wedding and party favors, and other fun chocolates available for purchase.

The story of the current owner, Ryan Novak, is available on the website link above (“About Us”), but also worth highlighting here. He started off washing dishes for the business when he was 15. In 2010, when he was only 21 years old, he became the owner of the company. Ryan has expanded CPC’s brand recognition and made it internationally known. That doesn’t reduce its appeal to the locals, since we are lucky enough to be able to purchase it where it’s made. Head over to Marcellus and check out this local treasure!

Backyard Garden Florist, Fayetteville, NY

Located at Lyndon Corners (near Dewitt Wegmans), with several parking spaces on two sides of the building

Owner: Nino Gagliano; Manager: David Valentine

Address: 6895 East Genesee Street, Fayetteville, NY

Phone: 315-445-0530

Website: https://backyardgardenflorist.com

Social Media: @backyardgardenflorist (Facebook)

On a day where the temperatures are sub-zero, wouldn’t it be lovely to imagine yourself surrounded in lush, fragrant flowers? Considering that my Christmas amaryllis just died, and my outdoor thermometer says it’s currently -4 degrees Fahrenheit, the timing seems especially right for me to review Backyard Garden Florist in Fayetteville. I could use some flowers right about now!

If you are looking for convenience, their website makes it incredibly easy to order flowers. If you’re looking for something that isn’t available on the website, I recommend calling to see if they can get it. This close to Valentine’s Day, it may be necessary to pick up flowers in person (call to ask), but if you live nearby, the location is convenient and has several parking spaces, so picking up a bouquet shouldn’t be too difficult.

As I mentioned in my Whistlestop Florist post, I did not get married in the Syracuse area, and I have not planned any large events here, so I had to rely on feedback from others. I received several recommendations for Backyard Garden Florist, and have read multiple online reviews. The storefront is inviting and has a small but nice selection of garden items or flower pots.

You can read about the owner Nino Gagliano and manager David Valentine on Backyard Garden’s website’s About Us page. Clearly this is an experienced florist that pays attention to trends in design and provides a personal touch. Customer reviews are mostly glowing. The only negative review that I found was related to price, but I think that most people who are used to buying flowers at the grocery store will find a professional florist’s prices to be high. You pay for what you get, and quality florists can naturally be expected to charge an appropriate price. A few other reviewers noted that they found Backyard Garden’s prices to be comparable with other high-quality florists in the area, and my review of their online pricing confirms this for me.

If you are in the market for a wedding florist, Backyard Garden has received Wedding Wire‘s Couples’ Choice award twice, and has earned over 34 five-star reviews, which can be found on the link provided. There are multiple glowing reviews to be found on The Knot as well.