Finding the Heart of Wallace

The hamlet of Wallace, town of Avoca, Steuben County, might not look like much at first. It is a sleepy little place, even when compared to other small villages of the Finger Lakes, but it possesses a quiet charm. Despite the hamlet’s slow pace, no one who shops a Wallace business (whether it be via the Internet or in person) can deny the enthusiasm and knowledge of the local entrepreneurs.

Only by slowing down and looking into the soul of Wallace does a visitor get a real sense of the place.

“Everything is in flux here in Wallace,” said Andrea Reisen, who co-owns Healing Spirits Herb Farm and Education Center on Route 415 with her husband, Matthias.

“If someone is willing to get off the four-lane – in this case, Interstate 390 – and go exploring,” Matthias added, “then they will see a different and unique Wallace.”

Off the beaten path
Paula Parker, a Wallace native and owner of The Parker House, said, “In the 1960s, it was a busy little farming town with a railroad station, grocery store, two hardware stores and a post office. I remember going into the hardware store in the evening, and the men would be sitting around in the back.”

At that time Route 415 was the main road from Corning to Rochester, but the Interstate changed things for Wallace – just as it did for many other small towns in rural New York.

The Reisens, who have been Wallace residents for 30 years, grow certified organic medicinal herbs on the 30-acre Healing Spirits Farm – with the help of the resident bees who pollinate their plants (and provide them with high-quality wax and honey). All herbs are handpicked, solar dried, and hand-processed onsite into teas, tinctures (extracts), salves, creams, infused oils, liniments and flower essences.

They primarily supply in bulk to pharmaceutical companies, with only about 10 percent of their business coming from retail sales, done right out of their home. Both of them are educators with national credentials who speak at conferences across the country. Visitors are invited to follow them out to the barn to observe the solar drying process. They also encourage people to gather a group of friends interested in a specific topic and contact them for a mini-course right at the farm.

A former community center renewed
Paula Parker bought the vacant former Wallace Methodist church building in 2007, with the purpose of establishing a bed and breakfast, and utilizing the sanctuary for parties and dinners.

Presently, Parker has converted the Sunday school wing into two bedrooms, and she has made the spacious church fellowship hall and kitchen into a comfortable sitting room and dining area for guests. The architecture of the sanctuary, with its tin ceilings and tall arched stained glass windows gives the space a distinctive charm. Circular “star” windows high in the peaks diffuse light throughout the space.

“There is a lot of family history here within these walls. I went to church here, and my three daughters were confirmed here. I assisted with their Girl Scouts and 4-H clubs. It was sad when the church closed its doors in 2005,” she said.

Though Parker House is not yet a member of any bed and breakfast association, Paula is aiming in that direction.

“This is a nice friendly community, and all of us business people know one another and support one another’s endeavors.”

Unique finds in Wallace
At the other end of Main Street, a former dry goods store holds a hidden treasure. It’s the physical home of, owned by Gary Saltsman, a retired Corning machinist. He runs it as primarily an Internet business selling new marbles for crafts, fish tanks, floral arrangements and game boards, and does not deal in collectible marbles.
“Technically, it is not a store that you can walk in and browse, as it is not easily accessible from the sidewalk, and there are tons of boxes all over the place in every possible spot,” said Saltsman. “If you were picking up an order that you had placed ahead of time, then you could get it here.”

Moody the Marble is a design he has trademarked – based on the fact that “not every day is a ‘Smiley Face’ day,” chuckled Saltsman. He drew up a smiley design that turns to a frown when the marble is turned upside down.

In stark contrast to the stacks and stacks of boxes in the old dry goods store, rows upon rows of wood slabs wait patiently in the workshop of Cross My Heart, also on Main Street. Owner Diane Rivers collects and carefully organizes her materials salvaged from old barns and houses being torn down.

“Whatever I grab hold of at the time, I put it to use creating unique bird houses and spindle angels from chair legs and crossbars,” said Rivers, enthusiastically.

Customers who walk in the front door can be taken aback by the floor-to-ceiling birdhouses on the sales floor. Without even stepping into the work area, they realize that this is not your average gift shop. Every birdhouse features a large descriptive tag that tells exactly where the wood slab came from and relates other little tidbits of unusual local history.

Rivers has also put information on her website about how to select the proper birdhouse for attracting a particular type of bird because, as she said, “People are looking for education about birdhouses.”

After several accounting jobs, including, most recently, one as head accountant for Dr. Konstantin Frank Vinifera Wine Cellars, she moved from her hometown of Hammondsport and went into business on her own. Combining all her skills, she purchased a small building in Wallace in 2005 as a permanent showplace for her birdhouses.
Cross My Heart recently expanded to a larger building next door, and now, the smaller quarters are strictly for antiques. Many area stores in the Finger Lakes carry Rivers’ birdhouses, easily recognized from her handwritten tag.

A taste of the country
There’s no need to worry that Wallace doesn’t have a place nearby for lunch. Head north on 415 to Route 371 in the town of Cohocton, taking in the impressive wind turbines up close on the hills as you go. At several points along the way, you can catch a glimpse of the Cohocton River, ideal for fly-fishing. Five miles north of Wallace on the corner of 371 and Wayland Street in North Cohocton is Mo-Jo’s Tacos, owned by the Domm family.

Mo-Jo’s colorfully painted stand is a familiar sight at Finger Lakes festivals and at the Bath Farmers’ Market in the summertime. Whether you go for a taco, a burrito or one of the daily specials, you will want to save room for homemade elderberry pie or carrot cake made fresh by Luanne.

“If you want to chat with people at nearby tables, it will be easy to strike up a conversation and learn a little about the area,” she said. “Everybody who comes in the door gets the same royal treatment.”

“Wallace is waiting to happen,” said Paula Parker, who paused for a moment before adding emphatically, “It will.”

For More Information
Cross My Heart
Diane Rivers
61069 Route 415
Wallace, NY 14809
607-566-2219, Inc.
Gary Saltsman

Healing Spirits Herb Farm and Education Center
Andrea and Matthias Reisen
61247 Route 415, Avoca, NY 14809

Mo-Jo’s Tacos
Luanne, Bob and Cliff Domm
2 Wayland Street
North Cohocton, NY 14808

The Parker House
Paula Parker
61140 State Route 415
Avoca, NY 14809

by Kay Thomas

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