RCA logo 2020

We almost didn’t run our third annual Finger Lakes Times Readers’ Choice Awards contest this year.

As we started planning for it back in April our initial thoughts were that it might be difficult to run a contest calling for people to get out and about when, because of the coronavirus pandemic, we were not being allowed to get out and about.

I said we almost didn’t run it, though.

After thinking it through, we felt a better way to look at it was that it was a way to promote at least the slightest little bit of normalcy, which everyone — including us here at the paper — needed back then. And still do.

So, we decided to go ahead with the contest, and we are very happy that we did. From the nominating stage, which seemed more robust than ever, to the voting stage — in which 3,120 people cast ballots — readers were as engaged as ever.

“Entering into our third year of Readers’ Choice Awards, we felt we had the process down and a solid understanding of all the phases,” Publisher Mark Lukas recalled. “But then the pandemic hit, and we had to turn our attention to much more important matters to ensure the viability of our business. That took time as things changed every day.”

Once the decision was made to go ahead with the RCA program, he added, “we just didn’t know how our readers and the business community would react.”

“Turns out,” he said, “our readers were more engaged than ever as it brought a sense of normalcy to their daily lives.”

And to our lives here at the shop also, as we went through the usual steps: preparing the rules; adding a few categories, dropping others; culling through the many nominations; preparing ballots both in print and online; tabulating the results; notifying winning businesses; and producing the special section that you can find in today’s newspaper announcing those results. In other words, it was business as normal in a year that is anything but normal.

We ended up with 71 exciting categories broken down over dining, entertainment, health, business/service and shopping — among the new ones were BBQ (won by The Rusty Pig in Geneva), Takeout/Curbside Pickup (won by Bella’s Sicilian Ristorante in Geneva), Plumbing (won by Halco Plumbing & Heating headquartered in Phelps) and Dance Studio (Toeprints in Geneva).

Said Lukas: “In several categories like Best Festival or Best Place for Live Music, we encouraged readers to vote based on their years of interaction with these events and destinations, not the current environment. We knew the business community couldn’t support this as they did in the past, but remarkably, our awards phase drew more advertising support this year than the previous two.”

I’m a lifelong baseball fan and so, a bit of a stat geek, so let me throws some numbers at you:

• A total of 43 winners are three-time champions, meaning they have claimed first place in all three years of our RCA contests; you’ll see all of them listed in our special section.

• There are 15 first-time winners. Including those in the new categories, the other first-timers are Ports Café (Fine Dining), Bella’s (Italian), Taughannock Falls State Park (Day Trip Destination), Midey, Mirras & Ricci LLP (Attorney), del Lago Resort & Casino (Hotel), D’Amico Chrysler Dodge Jeep Ram (New Car Dealer), Geneva Foreign & Sports (Used Car Dealer), Stomping Grounds (Bookstore), Horning’s Greenhouse (Garden Center), J-March Auto Sales & Service (Auto Repair), and Bostrom Farms (Specialty Meats).

• Belhurst Castle is the only business that won in three categories — Romantic Getaway, Wedding Reception and Specialty Hotel. Three businesses won in two categories: Bella’s, Three Brothers Wineries & Estates (Brewery, Winery Experience), and Halco (Heating & Cooling and Plumbing).

• The categories that drew the most votes were Ice Cream, 2,124 (won by Seneca Farms in Penn Yan), Pizzeria, 2,010 (won by Cam’s New York Pizzeria), Italian Restaurant, 1,997 (Bella’s) and Place for Live Music, 1,963 (CMAC).

• The best race was in Bookstore where winner Stomping Grounds, runner-up Longs’ of Penn Yan, and third-place Barnes and Noble all were within 21 votes of each other. Another tight race was in Used Car Dealer where Geneva Foreign & Sport nipped Geneva Coach by two votes, while in the Wings category, Uncle Joe’s of Geneva edged Ciccino’s by six tallies.

• The largest runaway was in Orthodontist where three-time champion Littlejohn & Barbi Orthodontics of Waterloo earned 57.58 percent of the votes, or 752 out of 1,308. Finger Lakes Hearing Center claimed 56.53 percent of the votes in winning Hearing Center, and The Rusty Pig received 52.58 percent in winning BBQ and also garnered the most votes in any category with 1,019.

• It also was interesting that even though all seven finalists in the Festival category have been canceled for this year because of the virus, the category still received 1,805 votes, with the Naples Grape Festival collecting 547 to win.

Find all of the 2020 Readers’ Choice Award winners in today’s special section and be sure to frequent them when and if you can as restrictions are eased. And if they’re not eased for a while, drop them a line and let them know that you appreciate them for they are the area’s best of the best, at least according to Finger Lakes Times readers.

“I can’t thank our readers and advertisers enough for supporting this program during what was most likely the most challenging time in their personal and professional careers,” Lukas said, adding, “I also would be remiss in not acknowledging the team here at the Finger Lakes Times that makes this program happen.”

See you next year for the fourth annual RCA program, no matter what Mother Nature throws at us.

Mike Cutillo is the Times executive editor. He can be reached at (315) 789-3333 Ext 264 or mcutillo@fltimes.com.

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