BARRINGTON — For as long as anyone can remember, there has been a business at 823 East Lake Road (Route 54) in this Yates County town. However, it’s highly unlikely that any have been as popular as The Olney Place, which has been overlooking Keuka Lake for nearly a dozen years now.
“For me, part of the business was developing more of a local hub, a cultural hub to give people a place to gather. That aspect was lacking in the past,” said Seth Olney, who started his namesake business in 2008. “You could always get a sandwich. You could always get a gallon of milk. It was always more of a convenience store.
“I wanted to have more of a market, local vibe where you could come, have a cup of coffee, read the paper, have a good breakfast sandwich and go from there. It feels that way now.”
Olney said there has been a business on the property for nearly
100 years, dating to the steamboat days; it was a packing house for berries and grapes back then. Sam Kenyon opened a general store, Kenyon’s, in the 1930s and ran it for nearly 25 years until his nephew, Leo Kenyon, took over in 1957. Leo Kenyon built a new store in the 1960s and operated it until 1979, when he sold it to Charlie Brown.
Olney noted that Leo Kenyon still lives next door to the current business.
Brown ran the store as Charlie’s Mart before selling it to Hammondsport resident Barry Cox in 1988. Cox was the successful girls basketball coach in that community and also owned the nearby Switzerland Inn. He changed the name from Charlie’s Mart to Froggy’s Country Store, and Froggy’s had several owners until Olney bought the site in 2006.
Olney, a 1998 Dundee Central School graduate who has a degree from State University at Albany, was very familiar with the business. He grew up in Barrington, where his family has longtime ties, but moved to Florida shortly after college. He obtained his real estate license in addition to working other jobs.
“I was doing well in real estate in south Florida, but something told me to get out. I knew we were in a (housing) bubble,” he said. “I was able to buy low and sell high in a rather short period of time, which gave me just enough equity to buy this place.
“I like to tell people I turned an 1,100-square-foot condo on an island into a 2,400-square-foot grocery store in the middle of nowhere.”
Olney tore down the dilapidated Froggy’s before building the existing store and naming it The Olney Place. A white enamel deli case is all that remains from yesteryear.
“That counter goes back to 1948,” Olney said. “When I knocked down Froggy’s, the only thing I kept was that deli case. To me, it’s the prized possession of the store. Not that I could grab it, but if the place was on fire and I could grab one thing, I’d want the case to make it. I love that deli case.”
After building the new store, Olney opened in April 2008. At first he was content with running the convenience store and deli — and selling Keuka Lake souvenirs — but he had designs on expanding to take advantage of the lake view. So, he got a license that allows businesses that have prepared
food and seating to consume beer on site.
“At the time I built this place it took every dime I had ... so the idea of putting in a deck was on hold,” he said. “Having a place for people to sit and look at the water became my next goal.
“Friends said don’t go for a deck. Make an addition out of it.”
He accomplished that in 2015, but ran into resistance from some town officials when it came to opening the addition because it includes a tap room. While he declined to go into detail, citing pending civil and criminal proceedings, he opened the addition in 2018 and it has been a hit ever since.
“It wore on me,” he said about the legal wrangling. “We are talking about 37 months of my life ... three years I won’t get back. I certainly grew as a person and learned a lot about
patience, but it will not replace the stress I put on myself and my family, and there were certain people abusing their power that I considered friends of my family. Those friendships are severed, probably for good.”
Olney refuses to dwell on the past and is grateful for his success, which allows him to travel extensively after the business — it’s open from May to October — closes in the fall.
“My goal is to get to Alaska. That’s the only state I haven’t been to,” he said. “The ultimate goal next June, on my birthday, is to be there on the summer solstice. In my 50th state on my 40th birthday, I want to have a beer at midnight, virtually under the sun. I might have to close the store for a few days to pull it off, but I will make that sacrifice.”