Lyons, NY is about 60 miles north of Ithaca, and since we were that close I really wanted to see the town. My old buddy and former employer Bob has returned to his hometown to do what his father and grandfather did: operate The Ohmann Theatre. Kat and I had planned to catch a film there but this week’s feature was Emoji; neither of us match that movie’s target market. We crashed a private birthday party and took an inside look. Bob completely renovated the structure about ten years ago. It looks better than when it was running newsreels about Midway and the Battle of the Bulge.
Bob quarterbacked the Lyons Lions, class of ’67, and lettered in baseball. Perhaps that’s where the inspiration for his other New York business came from: he owns Collegiate League Baseball teams in Newark and Geneva, NY. We attended a night game between his two teams in lovely Colburn Field, also completely renovated up to at least minor league Rookie Ball park standards. There is a lot of money in baseball these days, and with the cinema, more profits in concession sales than tickets. People pay $4 for a ticket and then spend $15 on hot dogs, nachos, popcorn, and drinks. Bob may have the most successful restaurant in town. The beer was cold and fresh but the peanuts were sold out before the 3rd inning. Geneva prevailed, and on the way out we left Bob with this “It’s just like in Field of Dreams. You built it, and they have come, because they have money, but little joy. You bring them joy.” Maybe he enjoyed life more as a multi-millionaire, but somehow, I don’t think so. Kat says Bob got a little misty-eyed, but I dunno. It was great to see him again, and to see him active and having fun.
Lyons began as an outpost on the Erie Canal with stores, hotels, and saloons. The canal supported the city in style for well over 100 years, but by the 1950’s railways and the St. Lawrence Seaway had essentially left Lyons high and dry. Today it’s showing its age, except for pockets of renovation often adjacent to empty buildings too long seeking a renter. We dropped in on old Dobbins Drug (been across the street from the Theatre 100 years), picked up a package at the old Post Office, and admired the city’s offices, all of which are still in excellent condition. The replica canal schooner was delayed by high water, but we glimpsed her on our way out of town. Yes, it is no larger than an average Mississippi tugboat, but those craft helped make New York City the premier port on the east coast – the Midwest’s grain that did not go south to New Orleans went east to NYC, and machinery and finery came back west.
For reasons unknown to me, Newark (six miles to the west) has successfully transitioned from canal town to a modern small city. There Kat and I dropped in on a pub which served us drafts, and a regional favorite, Beef on a Weck. The beef should be rare, paper thin roast beef, stacked an inch thick on the bun. The bun is a Kummelweck, distinguished from a Kaiser roll by the coarse salt and caraway seeds egg-washed to the crust of the bread. The sandwich is served with au jus and horseradish. Our beef was over-cooked to medium, but it was still a pretty good meal.
We may never return to Lyons, but we’ll be rooting for ‘em.