When Joe and Melissa Carroll announced they were closing their successful gallery in Durango, Colorado, and moving to New York State, their friends thought they had lost it. But the couple packed up their paintings, pulled up their lives, and moved everything into the former Scandia House boutique on Shethar Street in Hammondsport.
“It’s so great to be open and be here!” Melissa exclaimed. She and Joe have whole-heartedly embraced their new community and new life in the Finger Lakes.
One may wonder how a New Orleans boy and a Jersey girl happened to settle in a small community of 731 – now 733 – people. About the move East, Melissa said simply, “After 15 years it was time for a change.”
She and Joe had both moved west in the late 1980s, but didn’t meet until 1994. Melissa was running a bakery outside of Taos, New Mexico, and Joe was an up-and-coming steel sculptor. Within two months, they were engaged. The two spent the next 14 years owning and operating galleries in Telluride and Durango, Colorado. The region is renowned for towering peaks, wide-open skies and beautiful, but desolate, scenery. It is consistently ranked among the top vacation destinations in the country, and is a popular retirement spot. But during the 15 years that the Carrols lived there, the landscape changed.
Since 2000 the population of Durango and surrounding La Plata County has ballooned by more than 13 percent. The increase is expected to reach nearly 30 percent by 2016. As Joe explained, growth brings change to the way of life in mountain towns. “Durango has become really built-up,” he said. “It’s tough to see the mountains without power lines getting in the way. Highway 550 leading into town became densely lined with townhouses, condominiums, and big box stores.”
The changing environment fueled the couples’ desire to make a change themselves. They toyed with the idea of moving elsewhere, but it wasn’t until Joe saw the rolling green hills, the vineyards and the wineries of the Finger Lakes Region in 2007 that the prospect became, in his words, “just the right thing to do.”
Evidently, moving to Upstate New York hasn’t struck others in quite the same way. In 2003, it had the third-slowest growth rate in the country. It became known as a region in decline, both in population and possibility. The bright spots, however, have been the counties adjacent to the Finger Lakes themselves, which have experienced population increases in the past few years.
“I see so much potential here,” Joe said. “It’s beautiful, it’s quiet. It’s small enough that you can actually have a voice and a role in your community. You can really know people and impact their lives.”
When they arrived, the Carrolls got to work on the potential of their new house. It needed a new roof and a lime green door to be truly gallery-ready. They renovated the second floor into a comfortable living space. The gallery door is now open, but much work remains to be done. This winter Joe plans to turn the building’s tower into a painting studio, and Melissa is determined to finish unpacking and settle into their new digs. For now, after many moves and the challenge of laying down new roots, the Carrolls are finding this change in their lives one of the most exciting yet.
The Carroll’s future impact on the Hammondsport community seems bright. No matter where they have lived, they have garnered a reputation for three things – their ability to see potential in something most people would overlook, their bold ability to make change and to realize that potential, and the warm generosity with which they share their art and their lives.
Keep your eyes on Hammondsport. With a gallery like Lime Berry, and a couple like Melissa and Joe Carroll, there’s no telling what good fortune will arise there.
Lime Berry, 64 Shethar Street, Hammondsport. For more information, call 607-569-3300 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
by Taylor Chase