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It’s a recurring theme in Jamestown: cooperation builds community. The best businesses in town are proving that collaboration trumps competition, profiting from the ancient adage, “A rising tide raises all boats.”
All across Jamestown old buildings are being renovated and repurposed by new industries, new entrepreneurs and ideas are replacing age with growth. Critics say the movement is not universal, but according to one prominent member of the downtown business community, Jamestown’s renaissance is like a pinch of salt in a bowl of soup… it changes everything.
Old Building-New Life A Good Example
“I want to utilize this space as an asset to the downtown Jamestown area,” said Jordan Spencer, a new co-owner and current manager of the Willow Bay Building on Third Street between Pine and Potters Alley. “Our aim is to benefit anyone and anything in Jamestown that needs it.” Spencer is a graduate of Point Park University in Pittsburgh, in the Conservatory of Performing Arts and has also traveled worldwide as a performer.
The nearly century-old, five-story Willow Bay Building, a well known downtown landmark, became a bustling Masonic establishment in the 1920s, the Commons Mall in the ‘70s and ‘80s and has changed hands multiple times in between those years and since.
Willow Bay, now in the final stages of renovation, modernization and targeted repurposing, came under the leadership of Lynn Development about four years ago. It is now the enlarged and improved home to the Chautauqua Regional Youth Ballet, as well as a state of the art 500-seat theater which was once the Masonic Temple, commercial offices, busy storefronts, 10 residential apartments as large as 2,000 sq ft., a thriving church called Praise Fellowship and the offices of Chautauqua Works, the employment hub of Chautauqua County, according to willowbaybuilding.com.
Doing Well by Doing Good
“I don’t like to use the word charity very much,” said Shannon Nixon, a local freelance writer, JCC Business graduate and frequent benefit organizer. “I just see it as community.”
Nixon is organizing a benefit event, An Evening of Broadway, working with all volunteers, to be staged at the Willow Bay Theater on Friday evening, January 22, at 8p.m. “We’re featuring a whole assortment of local artists, musicians and dancers,” Nixon said with obvious enthusiasm. “I didn’t plan on all that, but people just came to me because they wanted to help. It’s about people coming together because that’s what community is.”
A Need – A Plan
“A couple of days before Christmas a friend came to me and said there was a family in need. They were a Jamestown family, the Duffees. My friend knew I did benefit shows but wasn’t sure I could help,” Nixon explained. “It was only one week before Christmas, so I said there was no way I could help in time for the holiday. I solicited help through FB, though, for people to donate Christmas gifts. The response was overwhelming. I decided to put together a show but I knew the timing would be tight.”
“I told Shannon we can set up fast for just about any opportunity,” Spencer said. “We strive for people in community to have a place for benefits like this, as well as shows, dances, conferences and much more. There was no reason we couldn’t help here.”
Helping a Neighbor
The Duffee’s 15-year-old daughter was diagnosed within the last year with Pots Syndrome, a mysterious disorder of heart rate and blood pressure that causes sudden fainting and, in her case, increasingly frequent and intense seizures as. The Duffee’s middle child is well, but the youngest developed an unexplained digestive reaction to many foods and simply couldn’t eat.
“These people are just like the rest of us,” Nixon said. “It’s a very humbling experience to witness these struggles. Part of life is learning how to accept help just because people want to do it.” Though the Duffees are both employed and Mrs. Duffee is active in local school events and the PTA, these sudden and unexplained illnesses have placed a major strain on the family.
Without special considerations from the Willow Bay Theater, Nixon said, An Evening of Broadway could not have been planned. For presale tickets ($10, $12 door) readers can call Nixon at 716-450-6277.
Asked whether the Willow Bay Theater will create competition with other theaters in town – the Reg Lenna Theater, the Lucille Ball Little Theater and others – Spencer replied, “We’re each defining our own niche and we’re all trying to figure it out. A thriving and growing theater district will complement the upcoming Lucille Ball Center for Comedy and should increase business for everybody.”
“When the Reg Lenna Theater had a big event recently and needed more chairs, we loaned them whatever they needed,” Spencer said. “And we collaborate with The Spire Theater, too. It’s just the way to get things done around here. Everybody cooperates and everybody benefits.”
Willow Bay Theater also hosts high school proms, business expositions, concerts and other groups as part of its regular, for-profit operations.
“The nature of what Willow Bay has done over the years is community support,” Spencer said. “We aim to be an asset that benefits downtown in any way we can. Collaboration is part of Jamestown’s DNA.”
The Willow Bay Theater can be contacted by calling 716 664 1516 to book shows, banquets, dances and more, or by visiting willowbaybuilding.com.