``All we wanted to do is consolidate our expenses, share the costs of road signs and advertising, but still retain our individual business identity.'' That's how Helen Edwards, owner-operator of Burdick Blueberries, explains the formation of East Otto Country Associates. Her business is one of six that joined to form this country-style marketing co-op. It's purpose is promotion of economic growth in rural Cattaraugus County.
The Associates meet once a month to decide on what market strategies to take with their diverse products - giant blueberries to pottery to metal work. One of the results of these sessions was the erection of colorful signs to direct visitors to East Otto to the various member businesses.
All but one of the associates began their businesses as hobbies. Burdick Blueberries, a 40-acre blueberry farm, had been in business for over 30 years. Burdick certainly didn't need help in promotion, but this family-operated business realized that helping others is a good way to help yourself.
``It's given people something to see. They come to see more than one business,'' says Elliott Hutton, who, along with her husband, Michael, owns Hog-Shed Pottery.
Hog-Shed Pottery is located in an old machinery shed. Elliott's wheel, clay, wood stove, and kiln, along with a small showroom, are located in this revamped shed. The showroom contains bowls, vases, mugs, oil lamps, pitchers, and casseroles all individually handcrafted by Elliott and having their own special and decorative style.
``I enjoy having the people come to the shop and watch me create something,'' she says. ``People get a greater understanding of how pottery is done.''
If pottery is not your style, what about herbs?
Four hundred different kinds of herbs are grown at another one of the associates, Herb Hollow Farm, owned by Dan and Kathy Salzler. Herb Hollow has many display gardens for herbs and vegetables. Dan has five types of vegetable gardens: raised bed, companion planting, multi-crop, mulching, and trellis. Each one is unique in itself and offers a variety of different types of garden enterprises.
There are also theme gardens. One has herbs from different countries - Canada, Mexico, Germany, and France. Dan plans on building a bridal garden with an arch planted with silver leafed flowers and white flowers. And there's a ``knot'' garden, a 16th-Century Renaissance English-inspired garden.
Since joining the East Otto Country Associates, ``a lot more people come around, says Paul Boccolucci, owner of Five Acres Blacksmith Shop. He does a lot of art work using blacksmithing techniques, and he also uses some traditional techniques. But, he's quick to point out, ``I'm a novice craftsman'' - not a blacksmith, that is, making horseshoes for horses. In fact, Paul has a display room with metal art works, ranging from the usual fireplace accessories to metal crafted chairs, wall hangings, and his prized object, a menacing head of a bearded helmeted man.
If you have a sweet-tooth, then Brooklyn Apiary, owned by Nancy and Robert Steinbar, is the place to go. This six-year-old hobby is now a business. The apiary has 23 hives, with about 60,000 to 80,000 bees per colony/hive.
Honey is not the only thing the Steinbars sell. From the comb, they makes beeswax candles, as well as dipped candles. They have pure honey, comb honey, cream honey, as well as maple syrup products.
Why did the Steinbars join East Otto Associates?
According to Nancy, they needed to get rid of their excess products at the end of the year or when they had a really good year.
``It's been beneficial to us,'' she says, ``Before, we've had to take the honey to area stores, which was time-consuming. Now we sell at the house. I like that better, especially with four children to keep track of.'' All of the children are involved in the honey business.
The final member of the Associates is A Stitch in Time, owned and operated by Holly Dudley. Ms. Dudley is a needlework artist who makes one-of-a-kind clothing for special occasions. She specializes in embroidery, English smocking, and fine hand-sewn garments, including christening garments and wedding dresses.
Her enterprise is by appointment only. So her business is not as elaborate as the other members', and word of mouth is Holly's way of advertising. But East Otto Associates has helped her business reach more of the public.
``Now there are more small business enterprises that want to join our group,'' says Helen Edwards. ``We plan to evaluate each one of them and see if they fall into our criteria. If so, then East Otto Associates will expand.''
This is still a small country town, but it is full of enterprising people willing to make an investment in the area and to make the town ``their place of business.''