Earlier this year, the Downtown Ithaca Alliance (DIA) announced its annual Best of Downtown Awards, including the Emerging Business of the Year Award, the Retail Business of the Year Award, and the Business Achievement Award. Honorees were presented with plaques by DIA Board President Michael Cannon and Executive Director Gary Ferguson at a gala dinner featuring food from a number of downtown restaurants and a keynote speech by City of Ithaca Mayor Svante Myrick.
The Emerging Business of the Year Award was presented to Penelope Pankow and F. Oliver’s Oils and Vinegars. During a business recruitment trip around the northern Finger Lakes region, a group of DIA staff and board members happened upon F. Oliver’s in Canandaigua. They were at first puzzled by the concept of a store that sold only olive oil and vinegar, but once they went in and experienced a round of tastings, they quickly realized that this business was not only offering top-quality gourmet products but also a unique shopping experience – something that they wanted to see more of in downtown Ithaca. Two years after that visit, F. Oliver’s owner Penelope Pankow committed to opening a new location on the Ithaca Commons. In the months since it opened, F. Oliver’s has taken downtown Ithaca by storm, demonstrating the strength of the market. There have been many rave reviews from community members who have gone in for tastings with Pankow and the store’s very personable and knowledgeable manager, Sean Hellman. Said Pankow, “All of us at F. Oliver’s were thrilled and honored to receive the award. Establishing our store in Ithaca has proven to be an excellent decision.”
The Retail Business of the Year Award went to Tony Johnson and Alphabet Soup. When it was announced several months ago that the Harold’s Square multi-use development project was going forward, many in the community were very excited by the prospect of new residential and retail space on the Commons but were concerned about the future of Alphabet Soup, whose longtime storefront would be displaced. Many Ithacans have fond memories of bringing their children to this wonderful, creative toy store – or being brought there as children themselves. It is safe to say that this store is one of Ithaca’s most beloved businesses. The DIA was most pleased that instead of closing, owner Tony Johnson chose to relocate to another space on the Commons. “All the congratulations should go to my wonderful, hardworking staff. They are what make this a winning business,” said Johnson. “We are looking forward to the redesign of the Commons and the building of Harold’s Square, and in the meantime we are content and we are doing very well in our new home in Center Ithaca.”
The Business Achievement Award was presented to Dr. Nicole Pagano and Green Street Pharmacy. Following the departure of CVS on the Commons, it was an enormous challenge to recruit a new pharmacy to downtown Ithaca. It was a triumph when Palmer’s Pharmacy opened at 131 East Green Street next to the Public Library; however, it was not long before the proprietor Darrin Palmer had to bow out of the operation and it seemed that downtown Ithaca would once again be without a neighborhood drugstore. Fortunately, Darrin’s cousin Nicole Pagano stepped in as owner/operator; she renamed it Green Street Pharmacy. She kept and enhanced the authentic old-fashioned soda fountain that serves hand-mixed sodas and sundaes made with local ice cream. Many downtown employees and residents have made Green Street Pharmacy their designated drug store of choice and truly appreciate Nicole’s commitment to speedy service, competitive prices, and friendly and exceedingly knowledgeable customer consultations. Despite a very demanding schedule as a pharmacist, business owner, and young mother, Nicole has also recently become active in the DIA’s Government Relations Committee. “I never imagined myself working in downtown Ithaca, and now I can’t imagine being anywhere else,” said Pagano. “This community has welcomed me as if I were a family member.”
Said Gary Ferguson, Executive Director of the Downtown Ithaca Alliance, “F. Oliver’s, Alphabet Soup, and Green Street Pharmacy represent the finest of downtown’s independent businesses. These are retailers that are consummate professionals. They understand customer service and they excel at presentation and marketing. They illustrate why there will always be place in our community for small bricks-and-mortar businesses.”