Lyndonville native has grand plans to revive Main Street in his hometown
Robert Smith is working to open hotel, café and shops
By Ginny Kropf, correspondent
LYNDONVILLE – A Lyndonville native’s love for his home town is creating a buzz throughout the community.
“This is a great uplift for the village and maybe what we needed to bring back Main Street,” said Lyndonville mayor John Belson, speaking of Robert John Smith’s intent to restore a c.1899 historic block encompassing the Webber Building.
Smith grew up in Lyndonville, where he often helped his mom in her restaurant/bar, Barb’s Lyn-D-Lounge.
Smith graduated from Lyndonville High School, attended Niagara University to obtain a degree in transportation, travel and tourism, and then took a job with Sheraton Hotels, working in New York City, New Orleans and San Diego.
“I soon realized unless you have somebody mentoring you, it’s tough to move up the ladder,” Smith said.
He quit his job and moved to Palm Springs, Calif., where he began a new career in insurance and financial services with New York Life. After retiring from there in 2011, he went to work for Mass Mutual Financial Group.
Then at age 59, his career path took another turn.
“I had come home in August for Mom’s 84th birthday and ran into a friend from school,” Smith said. “We saw all the boarded up stores on Main Street and I thought, ‘This is the result of the big box stores’ dumbing down of America. Their race to be the cheapest has been at the expense of destroying villages like ours.”
The boarded up stores encompass a block on Main Street north of Eagle Street, where once thriving businesses included Henry Pawlak’s Penny Saver Market, Stelianou’s Candy, Bates Liquor and the Lyn-D-Lounge.
As businesses closed over the years, the block changed ownership several times, ending up in foreclosure.
With an idea in his head, Smith arranged a tour of the buildings last summer and went back to California to put some numbers together. He returned at Thanksgiving, motivated by three factors: His mom doesn’t travel any more, so he would be coming home more often to see her; the opportunity to give back to the community in which he grew up; and the economics of what could be accomplished.
Smith closed on the 18,000-square-foot property March 1, and wanting to further support his home town, he hired local contractor Hansler Home Renovations to do the work.
He has pretty ambitious ideas for the block, including a café, wine tasting room, a bakery and taco shop, a small book store, barbershop, drop-off for dry cleaners and retail space for small business owners looking to get established. He would also like to see arts and crafts vendors there.
Upstairs, which used to house an opera house, Smith is planning to have a six-room hotel, something Lyndonville has never had. Right now, anyone staying at the lake has to drive at least 20 miles to find a hotel, he said.
“This would be so convenient for people coming to town for a wedding or reunion at White Birch Golf Course, or even fishermen,” Smith said.
His ultimate goal is to renovate the buildings to what they used to be, with plans to have the hotel completed by the fourth quarter of this year.
“We have been waiting years for this type of project,” Belson said. “This is an exciting time for Lyndonville, with the block from the creek to Maple Street having been declared a Historic District, and having one of our own come home and invest in his home town. Our people are fixing up their homes and we already have one of the best schools in the area.”
Smith said he expects to be home for a week to 10 days every 10 weeks to keep tabs on the building’s progress.