Ithaca Selects “Hunger Hero”

My most recent package from WICB’s “Ithaca Now.” I love how this one turned out.

Ithaca Now

In a public taste-testing contest on Friday, Ithaca mayor Svante Myrick chose the sandwich that will become Ithaca’s “Hunger Hero” icon, sold in local outlets and used to help fund the United Way of Tompkins County. ICB’s Steven Brasley has the story.

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The Foundation of Community: Building Playgrounds in Afghanistan

By Steven Brasley and Bianca Nicolosi

Swings, slides & monkey bars greet children as they race to the playground. Their energy propels them across a swinging bridge connecting each child not only as they play together but also as they have fun at the playground at South Hill Elementary in Ithaca, NY.

Children in Kabul, Afghanistan play on a playground built by Play by Design. Photo courtesy Lee Archin.

Now, a local playground company is providing the same opportunity for children abroad.

Play by Design, a playground company based in Ithaca, NY, has sent a team of builders overseas to construct playgrounds for children in Kabul, Afghanistan.

Click here to see an interactive graphic on safe playground design.

Dave Iannello and Lee Archin, founders of Play by Design, have been preparing for over a year to assist in 11 community builds in Kabul. “Essentially our job is to guide others to do for themselves and that’s just what we are doing in Afghanistan,” said Archin.

Play by Design was hired by The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). A spokesperson for USAID declined to comment on the project.

Click here for a slideshow on Play by Design’s build process.

Building a playground is a very small component in terms of building a relationship between Afghanistan and the United States, said Sher Jan Ahmadzai, coordinator for education and outreach services at the Center for Afghanistan Studies at the University of Nebraska at Omaha.

Although Ahmadzai said making a safe place for kids in Afghanistan to play is a positive step toward a good future, “the problem is sustainability.” Ahmadzai explained that most playgrounds built in Afghanistan lose quality in about six months due to lack of proper maintenance.

Play by Design builds its one-of-a-kind structures with sustainability and safety in mind by using materials such as rot resistant black locust and recycled composite wood. All playgrounds are certified safe according to US standards, Iannello and Archin said.

The company works with local community members to create play structures which connect residents, but cultural differences made this process difficult for the company.

“There were still some differences we had to address. We had to bring some equipment there that wasn’t available. There are certain days you can work and certain days that you can’t, Friday for instance is not a normal work day,” said Iannello, “We have personal body guards, there were a couple of sites that frankly were a little questionable due to safety.”

Despite this concern for safety, Iannello said building playgrounds is a redeeming endeavor, recalling the many smiling children at a playground ribbon-cutting ceremony in Kabul.

“Every kid has the right to play,” said Iannello.

Gamers Respond to Closing of Providence Hobbies

By Steven Brasley and Hayleigh Gowans

After being in Ithaca for seven years, Providence Hobbies, a gaming, hobby and comic book store, is closing its doors on November 20th, but two employees of the store are hoping to keep its spirit alive in the community.

A clearance sale sign hangs in the window of Providence Hobbies. The store is closing on November 20th.

Providence Hobbies started as a small store on State St., said Jeffrey Witty, the store’s owner and founder. After the economic downturn in 2008, the store moved to its current location, 631 West Buffalo St.

Click here to see a Magic the Gathering tournament at Providence Hobbies. 

One of the biggest draws to the store during its time in operation was its weekly tournaments and meet-ups to play tabletop games such as Dungeons & Dragons and Magic: the Gathering, Witty said. On average, 20 to 30 people gather for each Friday Night Magic event.

Click here to find local gaming stores and clubs.

Building a community through these games was an initial goal for the store, and Witty said he accomplished that.

“We’ve gotten kids off the street and doing something constructive with each other,” he added.

The store has been very important to Ithaca gamers since it opened in 2005, said  Margaret Hinsvark and David Jones, two managers at Providence Hobbies.

“The gaming community we see here every week, it’s massive,” Hinsvark said.

That massive community might be moving to a new venue soon.

Hinsvark and Jones are hoping to start a new hobby store in Ithaca similar to Providence Hobbies. They created a page on asking for donations to help fund their store, to be named “The Dragon’s Den.” It will operate similarly to Providence Hobbies, including hosting weekly game meet-ups and tournaments.

“It’s been really great that we’ve gotten that much attention in the two days since we put [the Indiegogo page] up,” Jones said. “The community that we have here really backs me and Margaret taking over.”

Celia Pearce, professor of digital media at Georgia Tech and author of Communities of Play: Emergent Cultures in Multiplayer Games and Virtual Worlds, said that having shops that offer events like the ones The Dragon’s Den plans to host are important to build the community of gaming in an area.

“If people are really interested in something, they want to share that interest with other people, that’s really the core,” Pearce said. “Communities are very organic and emerging and it’s really important to pay attention and be responsive to what is going on.

Comics for Collectors is a similar hobby store in Ithaca that sells comic books as well as tabletop games. The business has been in the area for more than 30 years. Tim Gray, owner of Comics for Collectors, said he believes that starting a business like this in Ithaca is tricky.

“Population is too small, rents are too high,” Gray said. “A lot of the customer base is college, but they’re here for academics, so they don’t have the time. Even though you think you’re going to have a lot of business through the colleges, you’re not going to have it.”

A good portion of start-up money, Gray explained, is needed for owners to succeed until the store starts picking up business in order for them to be able to continue.

Joseph McCheyne, a resident of Interlaken, said that he has been coming to Providence Hobbies for over 10 years, since he was a young teenager.

“I’m sad to see it closing. I understand Jeff wants to retire,” McCheyne said. “You see all the younger kids that come here and play, and it’s a wonderful thing that they’re doing. There’s definitely worse things they could be doing.”

Hurricane Sandy Breezes by Ithaca

By Steven Brasley and Shea O’Meara


As the largest storm in recent decades geared up to slam into some of the most populated areas on the East Coast and then travel upstate last week, Ithaca’s emergency response personnel went into action.

Ithaca Fire Chief Tom Parsons checks weather updates on his phone while sitting in the Emergency Response Center the Fire Department set up in preparation for Hurricane Sandy.

Hurricane Sandy came ashore in Atlantic City, NJ with 85 mph winds and caused widespread flooding, winds, rains and power outages in Northern states. The Los Angeles Times recently reported a total of 110 deaths due to the storm, 48 in New York and 24 in New Jersey. Affected areas are now struggling to repair damages, bring power back to citizens who have been in the dark for the past week and deal with a massive fuel shortage that has left East Coast drivers waiting in gas lines for hours.

But in Ithaca, Sandy breezed by.

The Ithaca area was spared the brunt of the storm and the majority of the calls to the clerks office, which totaled about six, during the storm because of downed tree limbs from the winds, said Julie Holcomb, Ithaca city clerk.

The members of the clerks office spent time with the emergency response team in Ithaca to decide how to best deal with the storm, Holcomb said. These preparations included sitting in on meetings with the National Weather Service for the week preceding the storm, putting out news releases asking people to prepare for the storm and cleaning leaves out of city drains to avoid local flooding.

On Monday evening the city opened the Emergency Operations Center to help people in need, but reduced staff after 2 a.m. when they realized the city would not be hit badly by the storm.

“Our largest concern was high winds and downed power lines,” she said.

The city’s properties were not damaged by the storm.

Click here to follow the Ithaca Fire Dept. on an emergency call.

C. Thomas Parsons, chief of the Ithaca Fire Department, said the department is constantly planning to respond to and be prepared for emergency situations.

“We’re really set up to operate in any disaster, man-made or natural,” he said. “The one thing that makes a disaster a true disaster is when the situation overwhelms the resources that you have.”

Rachel Thompson, a South Hill resident, said she stocked up on bottled water for the storm and was warned by her housing company to prepare her apartment for the winds expected from the storm.

“We got really lucky,” she said. “My family in New Jersey has been without constant power for a week.”

Ithaca Businesses, Residents Cope with Rising Gas Prices

By Steven Brasley and Natalie Krawczyk

A Fastrac gas station in Ithaca sells gas at the city’s average price.

Joan and Sandy Reuning of Ithaca like to travel, but they rarely drive long distances. When they do decide to travel, it’s under “no matter what” circumstances. The elderly couple plans on driving to Boston for Thanksgiving, but said they would have gone farther if gas prices weren’t so high.

The Reunings recently bought a second car with better gas mileage to replace their old one, to better economize their fuel intake.

“Before we maybe wouldn’t even think about [gas mileage],” Sandy said.

Gas Prices in Ithaca, NY from Natalie Krawczyk on Vimeo.

Gas prices are very high in Ithaca; the average price in the city as of October 29 is $3.94 per gallon, according to This compares to the current state average of about $3.90 per gallon, and the current national average of $3.56 per gallon.

“New York is almost always above the national average,” said Gregg Laskoski, a petroleum analyst for The State of New York tends to fall into a pool of states that have high taxes on both the state and federal level, which drastically boots gas prices in the region, Laskoski explained.

The City of Ithaca, however, has recently seen gas prices even higher than the state average. Last week’s prices were about 30 cents above the average price in New York State; as of October 27 the price difference is much less at about six cents per gallon, but higher than the state average nonetheless.

County and local taxes could contribute to higher gas prices in a town, Laskoski said. The volume of residents in an area also impacts the prices at the pump.

“If you’re in the sticks, volume is relatively low,” Laskoski said. “[Fuel distributors] are less likely to discount prices in low-volume areas.”

Local businesses that use excessive amounts of fuel have also been affected by rising fuel costs. Tompkins Consolidated Area Transit (TCAT) offers bus service to various places in Tompkins County.

“We’re receiving the pump price as well [as the average resident],” said Joe Turcotte, TCAT General Manager. TCAT buses run on diesel fuel. The current 2012 average for diesel is $3.56 per gallon. TCAT consumes about 425,000 gallons of fuel each year, a cost of about one million dollars.

The rising cost of gas has in some ways helped TCAT, however, by encouraging more Ithaca residents to take the bus. Turcotte says about 30 percent of TCAT’s budget comes from bus fares.

“The increase in riders definitely helps our budget,” he said.

Turning Green Street Into “Sweet Street”

By Steven Brasley and Kristy Zhen

Since Life’s So Sweet Chocolates opened on September 29, its employees have been stocking the shelves with over 60 varieties of handmade chocolates, childhood favorites like Pixy Stix, Fun Dip and Candy Dots and hundreds of colorful and flavorful Jelly Belly jelly beans. As if that wasn’t enough to draw you in, this candy store in Ithaca also offers eight house-made sodas from their original soda fountain, gluten-free and vegan options, and sustainable candy packaging. Best of all – it’s right downtown.

The interior of Life’s So Sweet Chocolates, a new candy store on Green Street in Ithaca.

The store located on 116 W. Green Street, strategically opened during Apple Harvest Festival.

“We wanted to let Ithaca know that we are here and we have lots of treats and that we want to know what they like as well,” said Darlynne Overbaugh, owner and head confectionist of Life’s So Sweet Chocolates.

Everything that is sold in the store is either handmade, house-made or from a family-owned business. The candy store offers three types of truffles that are hand-rolled and hand-dipped, as well as eight house-made syrups for their original, fully-restored soda fountain from 1949. There are also seasonal items. Currently, they sell pumpkin pie and apple pie truffles, as well as “spider webs” and “monkey brains” for the month of October. In addition, all packaging is biodegradable, recyclable or reusable.

See more: A Tour of Life’s So Sweet Chocolates

So far, the store has received a steady flow of customers, said Manager Kara Tilton.
The clientele includes people working at the surrounding businesses, high-schoolers who come in after school, parents and grandparents who come with children, and people who just happen to walk or drive by.

“I think it’s wonderful,” said Gary Price, a man who discovered the store one day when he was walking to the library. “It’s in the perfect location.”

This is the second location of Life’s So Sweet Chocolates, which has an original store in Trumansburg. Overbaugh was able to open this store after winning the Race for Space contest, a business development project that awarded existing or aspiring retailers or entrepreneurs the chance to open shop in downtown Ithaca. In addition to the retail space, the rewards also included free rent for a year.

Tim Dean, a new customer, believes that the free rent will really help the candy store to succeed.

“I think a lot of businesses have a hard time starting and maintaining. But if they can get established, they have a real shot,” he said.

In the future, Overbaugh has plans to add Wi-Fi, have the space available for birthday parties, convert the three tables to represent the progressions of the game Candy Land, and host non-alcoholic chocolate happy hours on Fridays.

“We like to say that we are turning Green Street into Sweet Street,” she said.

Number of Working Seniors in Tompkins County Rising

Three out of ten senior citizens in Ithaca remain in the local workforce, according to the latest study by the Tompkins County Office for the Aging.

Pennie Small, 66, works in her office at Momentum Media in Ithaca. Small is among a growing number of Tompkins County seniors who are still employed full-time or part-time.

The survey conducted for the 2012 Needs Assessment for Tompkins County residents ages 60 and over also says more than 13 percent said they would like to be employed. This compares to a similar study by the Office for the Aging in 2004, which said about one out of four Tompkins County seniors were still employed and less than ten percent of non-working seniors saying they would still like to be employed.

The rising number of working seniors in Tompkins County is a direct result of the recent economic recession, said Lisa Holmes, director of the Tompkins County Office for the Aging.

“A number of individuals who were planning retirement are continuing to work longer than they thought they would,” Holmes said.

The study says working senior citizens tend to work in jobs such as manufacturing, administration, and food services.

“You can work in those jobs a lot longer than things like construction, that are harder on the body,” Holmes said.

Pennie Small, 66, is the business manager at Momentum Media Sports Publishing in Ithaca. She is not planning on retiring soon due to economic concerns, she said.

“One of my friends . . . was downsized to a half-time position, and was barely making money at all,” Small said. “I don’t know how she was affording to eat . . . and now she’s deciding to retire in January. I’m thinking, ‘how can you do that?’”